UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. point man on Syria said Wednesday it's too soon for another peace conference in Geneva and invited Syrians to hold intensive preparatory talks on key issues including a political transition and fighting terrorism.
Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council that the U.N hopes that when Syrians come together to talk they can set out "an irreversible path toward a genuine political solution."
De Mistura said that the most polarizing element in the roadmap to peace in Syria adopted by key nations in Geneva in June 2012 is the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers, which opposition groups insist on and the government says is unconstitutional. The roadmap ends with elections and would require Syrian President Bashar Assad to relinquish power at some unspecified point.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council that the more than four-year-old Syrian conflict, which has left at least 250,000 killed and turned more than 4 million people into refugees, "is a shameful symbol of the international community's divisions and failure."
"The price of continuing the civil war is simply too high. In the name of humanity there is no alternative to the negotiating table," Ban said.
He said international support is critical to de Mistura's new peace effort and urged the international community to build on the political momentum generated by the recent nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers to work on resolving the conflict in Syria.
The U.N. chief urged the Security Council to endorse de Mistura's recommendations and convince the Syrian parties to participate in the proposed talks. He also urged the council, Syria's neighbors and regional sponsors of the parties fighting in Syria "to stem all flows of arms and foreign fighters pouring into the country" and "to stop using the country as a proxy battleground."
Over the last 2 1/2 months de Mistura held talks with over 200 individuals — Syrians and non-Syrians — on finding a political solution.
He said the talks revealed a shared sense of urgency given recent gains by the Islamic State extremist group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, and "talk about fragmentation, radicalization and sectarianism." He said there was also wide support for "a managed, phased, gradual or controlled transition, avoiding a repeat of Libya or Iraq."
De Mistura said the two past peace conferences in Geneva in 2012 and 2014, which failed to bring peace, still got opposing Syrian parties to start talking to each other, even indirectly.
He said his aim was now to hold simultaneous discussions among Syrians on addressing key aspects of the 2012 Geneva roadmap and Ban said the U.N. hopes to get four working groups operational in September.
De Mistura said they will tackle safety and protection of civilians, medical access and the release of detainees, political and constitutional issues, combatting terrorism, as well as reconstruction and development.
After closed consultations, secretary-general Ban said he was "encouraged by the many expressions of strong support" for De Misutra's plan from council members.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said de Mistura's proposals will be sent to Damascus and will be studied thoroughly.
He stressed that combatting terrorism is a top priority for his government and welcomed the emphasis by U.N. leaders on the negative roles by neighboring countries in supporting "the so-called foreign terrorist fighters." Syria has often accused neighboring Turkey and Gulf countries, especially Qatar, of supporting "terrorists" inside the country.
"We cannot go ahead with the political track and put aside the issue of combatting terrorism. We need stabilization of the country ... and then we engage peacefully on the other tracks," Ja'afari said.
Associated Press Writer Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations.