BEIRUT: The United Nations peace mediator for Syria said Monday it was unlikely that talks in Switzerland between the Syrian government and opposition would resume soon, amid few signs that one of the opposition’s chief backers intends to change its approach to the conflict.
Lakhdar Brahimi mediated two rounds of talks in Geneva this year but failed to bring the sides closer to agreeing on a transitional government as called for at an international conference in the Swiss city in 2012.
Speaking in Kuwait ahead of an Arab League summit, Brahimi said conditions were not currently there for a return to the talks, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
“It is unlikely at the current time that dialogue will resume between the Syrian regime and the opposition in Geneva,” the agency quoted him as saying.
As the hopes for a resumption of Geneva have dwindled since the last round ended, the fighting has continued to grind on, in a drawn-out war of attrition. Government forces, backed by Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq, have achieved recent victories in the mountainous Qalamoun region on Lebanon’s northern border, as well as in the western part of Homs province, also near the border with Lebanon.
But rebel-led offensives have been chipping away at the regime’s less well defended military concentrations, from the southern provinces of Qunaitra and Deraa, to Hama, Idlib, Aleppo and Latakia provinces, in the north and northwest.
This month, Brahimi said if Syria went ahead with an election that would likely secure a new term for Assad, the opposition would probably not be interested in pursuing further peace talks with the regime.
Meanwhile, the new U.S. special envoy to Syria, Daniel Rubenstein, met Sunday in Gaziantep, Turkey, with the prime minister of the opposition’s interim government, Ahmad Tohme, and other ministers.
However, the discussions focused on how Washington could step up the provision of aid by the Friends of Syria group to the Syrian opposition, the interim government said in a statement.
Tohme’s government presented its “plan to rebuild state institutions in liberated areas” during the meeting, which was attended by the provisional government’s ministers who handle economy- and services-related portfolios, including the minister of justice.
Hadi Bahra, who served as one of the chief negotiators for the opposition-in-exile National Coalition during the Geneva talks, Monday issued a more explicit demand – take the Syrian government’s aircraft out of the military equation.
In a statement, he called on the international community to act to ban or otherwise “neutralize” the use of planes that have been engaged in the “indiscriminate” targeting of civilians, by using internationally banned weapons such as cluster bombs and crude “barrel bombs,” which are dropped by helicopters.
Bahra noted that his call came one day after Turkey shot down a Syrian airplane that it said strayed into its airspace after conducting sorties in Latakia province.
“Turkey used its right to respond to these repeated violations, by downing a plane that was headed to bomb innocent civilians in Syrian territory,” he said.
Few observers are expecting a dramatic change in the stance of backers of the Syrian opposition, led by the United States.
Washington remains hesitant about providing the opposition with the “sophisticated weapons,” or shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, that it has repeatedly asked for.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia this weekend for talks with King Abdullah, with the two expected to discuss the Syrian war.
Rubenstein’s predecessor, Robert Ford, has recently spoken publicly on his experience after his retirement last month, and observers have taken his assessment – that the Assad regime will likely remain in power a year from now, controlling a significant part of the country – as a sign that the Obama administration has little appetite for supporting a more activist policy on the conflict.