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Middle East

No 'tangible results' in peace talks: Syrian foreign minister

Syria's Foreign Minister and head of the Syrian government delegation Walid Muallem speaks during a press briefing on peace talks at the United Nations headquarters on January 31, 2014 in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES

GENEVA: A week of UN-brokered peace talks between Syria's opposition and government has failed to achieve any tangible results, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Friday.

"I regret to tell you that we have not reached tangible results during this week," he told reporters after the closed-door negotiations wrapped up in Geneva.

Muallem blamed a "lack of maturity and seriousness" on the part of the rival delegation, which he claimed had sought to "implode" the peace negotiations.

"They acted as if we had wanted to come here for one hour and hand over everything to them. It's indicative of the illusions that they are living under," he said.

Muallem spoke after UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said he aimed to bring the two sides back to the table for a new round of talks from February 10.

Brahimi had told reporters that while the opposition agreed, the government delegation had informed him that it wanted time to consult with Damascus first.

Muallem said President Bashar al-Assad and his government would first read the delegation's report, then make a decision on the next step, with the negotiators returning if the public demanded it.

Both the regime and opposition spar over who truly speaks in the name of Syrians, with the government claiming the rebels are the plaything of the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.

"We represent the concerns and the interests of our people," Muallem insisted.

"We are a country. We have our government, our institutions. We are willing to discuss, but for that we have to know the identity of the other side: are they Syrians or are they not?"

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 after a regime crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests.

It morphed into a sectarian-tinged civil war which has claimed over 130,000 lives and driven millions from their homes, sparking a devastating humanitarian crisis.

The Geneva talks marked the first time Syria's warring sides had sat down together since the war began.

They revolved around the so-called Geneva I communique, drawn up by an international conference in 2012 in the Swiss city which did not involve both sides in the war, and where world powers called for a negotiated political transition in Syria.

"Geneva I as a communique was formulated in the absence of the Syrians," Muallem said, noting that interpretations of its content diverged.

A key gap is over the future of Assad, who the opposition insists must go right away and deserves to be tried by the Syrian people over his regime's abuses.

The regime insists that the issue of the president is a red line.

"The forefront of our concerns is combatting terrorism," Muallem added, saying the opposition was "completely detached from what is happening in Syria".

Damascus, pointing to ultra-Islamist Syrian and foreign fighters within the rebel ranks, slaps a "terrorist" label on the opposition, which counters that it is itself fighting the jihadists and claims there is regime complicity with the hardliners.

 

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