Syrian peace talks collapse, 'golden opportunity lost'

 It would be challenging for any future talks to make progress, 'if the government is not willing to meet anyone who has a different opinion,' said special envoy Staffan de Mistura

Staffan de Mistura, UN Syria envoy (Photo: Washington Times)
Staffan de Mistura, UN Syria envoy (Photo: Washington Times)

UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, set to end the Syrian civil war have collapsed, with a deflated special envoy Staffan de Mistura admitting that a “golden big opportunity” had been missed.

He blamed the Syrian government delegation mainly, for setting preconidtions on holding direct talks with the opposition, claiming that it would be challenging for any future talks to make progress, “if the government is not willing to meet anyone who has a different opinion.”

De Mistura said that the Syrian government delegation refused to discuss two of the major potential agenda items – a constitutional process and presidential elections – instead insisting that it would only discuss terrorism.

The end of talks on Thursday leaves the Geneva process, which is now in its eighth round of talks, without credibility.

De Mistura said that he would report the outcome of the talks to the UN security council next week and would keep trying.

Without pressure from president Bashar al-Assad’s sponsors Russia, or a great change on the battlefield, Assad felt no need to negotiate with an under-resourced, divided opposition.

As the Syrian government delegation categorically refused to engage in Geneva, de Mistura pleaded with Russia to put more pressure on the government negotiators to begin talks. The Syrian government lead negotiator Bashar Ja’afari however, said that it was not possible to talk to the opposition.

Syrian ambassador to the UN and the head of government delegation Bashar al-Jafaari (right) and a member of his delegation in Geneva, Switzerland on 14 December (Photo: Reuters)
Syrian ambassador to the UN and the head of government delegation Bashar al-Jafaari (right) and a member of his delegation in Geneva, Switzerland on 14 December (Photo: Reuters)

In a statement issued by a revamped opposition delegation team in Riyadh, Ja’afari said he would not negotiate under blackmail, ahead of the talks demanded in a political transition in which Assad did not participate.

De Mistura said that apart from one mistaken statement by the opposition at Geneva, it did not set preconditions. Also, its call for Assad to stand aside ahead of UN supervised presidential elections was an expression of an opinion and not a precondition.

Ja’Afari even accused De Mistura of misleading him, by placing the Syrian government delegation in a room, adjacent to the opposition.

The collapse of the talks left the political initiative to secure a political settlement now resting largely with president Vladimir Putin, who said he will convene a Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, probably in February.

The Syrian government will be attending Putin-sponsored talks, especially if the unknown composition of the congress dilutes the opposition attending the talks.

In a bid to make itself a negotiating partner for the Syrian government, the opposition ahead of the talks broadened its composition and diluted its platform.

The UK remains committed to Assad’s removal from office, on the basis that no sustainable political settlement or return of refugees is possible as long as he remains in power.

The Sochi conference faces difficulties since one of the co-sponsors, Turkey, insisted it will not allow Syrian Kurds to attend the dialogue on the basis that they have links with the Turkish Kurdish group, the PKK.

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