De Mistura: Syria talks in Geneva end with clear agenda

He wanted to discuss a new constitution, elections and reformed governance - and particularly the future of president Bashar Al Assad - while Bashar Al Ja'afai, the negotiator for the Syrian government, wanted "counter-terrorism" to be included on the agenda.

Nasr al-Hariri, the opposition's negotiator in Geneva, said despite an apparent lack of concrete results, for the first time the discussions covered issues relating to political transition in Syria in acceptable depth.

Both sides could point to small victories. "The difficulty is that the opposition wants to be sure how the question of terrorism will be dealt with and in what order", one diplomat said.

Russian representatives met both sides behind the scenes, according to Reuters news agency.

"They need language that ensures the process is not hijacked by the government to distract from political transition".

There are still "people in Syria and outside who still believe there is a military option or a military", De Mistura warned, but called such ideas "a fantasy", confirming the UN's commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict which has been raging since March 2011, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attends a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland on March 3, 2017. But the scope of these negotiations was at least narrower than a year ago when he was also coping with demands for a ceasefire and a prisoner release.

In parallel, the talks in Astana - convened by the Governments of Iran, Russia and Turkey - would continue to address issues related to the maintenance of the ceasefire and confidence-building measures.

Syria on Thursday accused the opposition High Negotiations Committee of taking UN-backed peace talks "hostage" over its refusal to include terrorism on the agenda, saying the HNC would be responsible if negotiations fail.

Despite those contacts, Russian Federation accused the main opposition of trying to sabotage the talks by refusing to unite with two smaller dissident groups which have no military muscle but have Moscow's blessing as opposition voices. "Everything is ready, it just needs an accelerator", he said at the end of nine days of talks in the Swiss city.

"Russia is trying to do that to destabilise the talks".

For this reason, de Mistura saw past and future talks in the Kazak capital of Astana as an important factor complementing the political track in Geneva.

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

  • Joey Payne