Syria Geneva talks adjourn with no date set to resume


McClatchy Foreign Staff

With no progress to report at the end of the second round of Syrian peace talks, U.N. Syria envoy Lakdhar Brahimi on Saturday adjourned the talks and set no date for the next round, calling instead for U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects on their responsibility: Do they want this process to take place or not?" Brahimi told reporters.

Brahimi blamed the impasse on the two sides’ disagreement over how to deal with the four points on an agenda that Brahimi said both the Syrian government and the opposition have agreed to: violence and terrorism, the appointment of a transitional governing body, what to do with current national institutions, such as the police and the army, and how to bring about national reconciliation and debate.

But the government has not agreed to the way Brahimi would like the topics to be discussed, alternating days, with the first devoted to violence and terrorism –the government’s preferred topic – and the second devoted to the transitional governing body, the subject that most interests the opposition.

Brahimi said it was “extremely clear that one day will not be enough to finish the discussion on violence and terrorism, and one day will not be enough on discussing the TGB," but that the Syrian government wants the discussion of violence and terrorism to reach a conclusion before the transitional governing body discussion starts.

That “raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the government doesn’t’ want to discuss the TGB at all," Brahimi said.

Whether high-level talks among Ban, Kerry and Lavrov will help bridge the differences was unclear. Brahimi met only Thursday with two senior diplomats from the United States and Russia. His call so soon after that meeting for a session between his boss and still higher level Russian and American officials was seen by diplomats here as signaling concern from Brahimi that statements from the two countries in recent days have been unhelpful.

Brahimi, this thinking goes, wants to hear from Kerry and Lavrov – who initiated the peace talks – that their countries still support his mediation efforts and are willing to make sure their allies in the Syrian conflict participate.

The search for renewed commitment from the two world powers comes after President Barack Obama said during the visit of King Abdullah II of Jordan that his administration was contemplating “some intermediate steps that we can take to apply more pressure on the Assad regime.” At the same time, Russia has shown reluctance to press the Syrian government to take a more conciliatory approach to the talks and has circulated a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council that indicates the two powers are not on the same page when it comes to humanitarian assistance reaching the millions of displaced persons inside Syria.

Delegates from the Syrian opposition and the government publicly blamed each other for the lack of progress.

Opposition spokesman Louay Safi accused the government of being “not serious” and engaging in stalling tactics, while Syria’s chief negotiator, Bashar al Jaafari, said his side was “committed to stopping the bloodshed, combating terrorism and bringing about a political settlement acceptable by the Syrian people based on the Geneva communique."

That was a reference to the June 30, 2012, document that first called for the peace talks, including discussion of a transitional governing authority that would be appointed by mutual consent.

Brahimi expressed regret at the lack of progress.

"I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people that their hopes which were very, very high that something will happen here . . . I apologize to them that on these two rounds we haven’t helped them very much," he said.

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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