The Latest: UN concludes 'substantive' Geneva talks on Syria

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Posted: Mar 03, 2017 2:10 PM
The Latest: UN concludes 'substantive' Geneva talks on Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria (all times local):

9:15 p.m.

The U.N. Envoy to Syria says he wants the government and opposition to pursue a "framework agreement" outlining a political transition process in accordance with a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution.

Staffan De Mistura addressed reporters Friday at the conclusion of the latest round of diplomacy between the two sides to end Syria's six-year-long war. He called the round "substantive."

He said that the Security Council set out a "clear timetable" to draft a new constitution for Syria, within 12 months, and to hold free and fair elections under UN supervision, within another 18 months.

The envoy said he planned to invite the sides back to Geneva for another round of discussions this month.

"The train is ready, it is in the station," he said.

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8:30 p.m.

A Syrian opposition leader says negotiations are ending in Geneva and that the parties have agreed on a tentative date for a new round of talks.

Speaking to journalists on Friday, Nasr el-Hariri said talks were concluding without "clear results" but that this round of negotiations — dubbed Geneva 4 — produced more positive results than prior diplomatic efforts.

One measure of progress, he said, was unprecedented discussions on the topic of political transition.

Those discussions were held with the United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who wants to convince opposition groups and the government of Syria to negotiate a solution to the six-year conflict.

Standing on a stage flanked by exiled political figures and representatives of armed opposition groups, Hariri expressed regret the negotiations could not continue for additional days.

"We didn't come here just to go back and forth," Hariri said "We wanted to go back to my country, Syria with a real political solution."

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7:45 p.m.

A pro-Russia Syrian opposition representative says talks mediated by the United Nations have fallen below expectations.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Hamza Monzer said "there is no doubt that the results achieved so far fall below our ambitions."

One breakthrough, Monzer noted, was an "ice-breaker" meeting late Thursday with the largest opposition delegation at the talks.

The main opposition delegation in Geneva has the backing of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the West. It includes the leaders of opposition factions on the ground as well as political figures living in exile.

The Cairo and Moscow platforms have been pushing for a single opposition delegation that gives them equal weight. Critics say they have no presence on the ground.

U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura has dedicated more than a week to talks with all three groups and the Syrian government in a bid to get them to commit to negotiations for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

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4 p.m.

The Russian military says its officers have planned and directed the Syrian operation to recapture Palmyra.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff said Friday Russian warplanes and special forces have played a "decisive role" in driving out the IS militants.

Syria's military announced the previous night that its forces have fully recaptured Palmyra, the third time the town famed for its ancient Roman ruins has changed hands in one year. Rudskoi said the Russian military spared Palmyra's heritage sites which IS had sought to destroy.

Rudskoi said over 1,000 IS militants were killed in the fight for Palmyra. He said the top-of-the line Ka-52 helicopter gunships have proven their efficiency in combat.

He said that Russian explosives experts would soon join the Syrian army in clearing mines in Palmyra.

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2:20 p.m.

A United Nations mediator is trying to wrap up talks with the Syrian government and opposition delegations with a clear agenda to guide future talks over ending the six-year civil war in Syria.

U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura sat down with one of the opposition groups invited to Geneva on Friday and was expected to meet with the government delegation and other opposition representatives later in the day.

Speaking at the end of that meeting, Jihad Makdissi, head of the opposition Cairo platform, said if procedural issues are overcome there may be another round of talks in March.

The idea, he said, is to tackle the three main issues on the agenda -- governance, constitution, elections -- in parallel. The subject of terrorism could also be added to the agenda.

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11:30 a.m.

A Syrian security official says Syrian army units are cleaning land mines and explosives in the historic town of Palmyra hat were left behind by Islamic State militants.

The official says he expects the process to be long and difficult due to the large number of mines planted by the extremist group. He spoke on condition of anonymity Friday in line with regulations.

Syria's military announced the previous night that its forces have fully recaptured Palmyra from the extremist group as the militants' defenses crumbled and IS fighters fled in the face of artillery fire and intense Russia-backed airstrikes.

The development marks the third time the town — famed for its priceless Roman ruins and archaeological treasures IS had sought to destroy — has changed hands in one year.