U.N. mediator not expecting quick breakthrough in Syria peace talks

Reuters News
|
Posted: Feb 22, 2017 11:13 AM

By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday he did not expect an immediate breakthrough when Syria peace talks restart on Thursday, but he wanted productive talks that relaunch the process towards a political solution to end the six-year war.

They will be the first U.N.-mediated negotiations on Syria in almost a year, during which time the military and geopolitical context has changed massively. Even so, the same disagreements are likely to resurface.

De Mistura said Russia, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad's military advances, had asked the Syrian government to "silence their own skies in the areas touched by the ceasefire" during the talks. Countries close to the opposition were also asked to urge them to lessen provocations, he said.

"Am I expecting a breakthrough? No, I'm not expecting a breakthrough," de Mistura told a news conference. "But I am expecting and determined for keeping a very pro-active momentum," he said.

Hours later, the Syrian opposition called for face-to-face negotiations with the government delegation, saying it was hoping for a "serious partner" while casting doubt on Damascus' readiness.

Spokesman Salem al-Muslet, speaking to reporters, said that the opposition delegation did not want this round to be like the one a year ago which was fruitless.

Referring to the delegation led by Syria's Ambassador to the U.N. in New York Bashar al-Ja'afari, he said: "We have experience with this regime. They're not here to negotiate about a political transition, but they're here to buy time and commit more crimes in Syria. There's no trust in this regime."

De Mistura said that he hoped neither side would seek to disrupt the talks by provoking the other and that momentum towards a political solution was necessary to thwart "spoilers" bent on derailing peace efforts.

While the Geneva talks will focus on politics, de Mistura said he expected more rounds of talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, convened by Russia, Turkey and Iran, to deal with the ceasefire and related humanitarian issues, including prisoners.

He declined to discuss the format of the Geneva talks, which he said would start with bilateral meetings, and did not say what his objectives were for this round.

But he said the negotiations would be guided by U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 which refers to the establishment of credible and inclusive governance, the process for drafting a new constitution and free and fair elections.

"We will be very reluctant to engage in pre-conditions, and in fact I will be refusing them," he said.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; editing by Richard Lough and Dominic Evans)