U.N. Syria envoy to consult on new political talks: diplomats

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 13, 2015 1:56 PM

By Tom Perry and Tom Miles

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations' Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is proposing to hold consultations in Geneva on new political talks, diplomatic sources said on Monday, more than a year after U.N.-led peace talks collapsed.

Nobody from De Mistura's office was available to comment on the initiative, which follows a request by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the relaunch of a political process.

Diplomats said de Mistura was planning a "series of consultations", likely to begin in May or June, to assess the chance of finding common ground between the main states with an interest in the conflict.

"He's planning to have consultations involving Syrian representatives as well as some states," one Geneva-based diplomat said. "It will be a process but not an open-ended one."

However, one Western diplomat said it was unclear why the initiative would stand any better chance than attempts by De Mistura's predecessors Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, who both quit the job after failing to end the conflict.

"The question is do we now have all the conditions (for a deal)? There is pressure around convening a meeting, but has the situation drastically changed?"

Annan presided over a conference in June 2012 that produced the "Geneva communiqué", which set out the steps needed to stop the fighting and usher in a political transition, but left the question of President Bashar al-Assad's future role unresolved.

Brahimi brought the sides together for the "Geneva 2" talks in early 2014, but the process fell apart after they disagreed on which issue to tackle first.

Since then, Assad strengthened his position by winning an election for a new presidential term, the Islamic State armed group made large territorial gains and the violence has continued, with a death toll thought to be around 220,000.

Although no end is in sight, the battlefield is seen as more fluid than for some time, with rebels having dealt significant blows to Assad in both the northwest and the southwest.

Diplomatic relationships among the main players have also evolved, with Iran and the United States engaging at nuclear talks and Saudi Arabia leading a coalition against Shi'ite fighters in Yemen that it says are backed by Iran.

De Mistura had hoped to achieve a ceasefire in Syria's second city of Aleppo, but rebels rejected the plan a month ago, saying it would only benefit the Syrian government.

"There’s a clear push from the secretary-general but also from the Security Council that he should work on the political solution," a diplomat said.

(Editing by Alison Williams)