Syrian government declared that its main priority was stopping terrorism not ensuring peace and the opposition hinted it was far from ready to negotiate directly with the government it wants to overthrow, casting sharp doubt today on peace talks that have barely begun.
On the day that the two sides were meeting separately with a U.N mediator known for untangling diplomatic knots, their comments affirmed positions hardened by nearly three years of crisis . The goal of direct talks by Friday appeared distant at best.
Syrian Foreign Minister "Walid al-Moallem", speaking after the tense opening day of a peace conference that has nearly fallen apart at every step, said his government's priority was to "to fight terrorism".
He said "this paves the way for the start of the political process and an internal Syrian dialogue without any foreign intervention".
Al-Moallem dismissed the Western-backed opposition coalition as exiled, ineffectual meddlers, insisting that any political negotiations should take place without outside interference and with those who truly represent Syrians.
Haitham al-Maleh, a Syrian opposition figure and a senior member of the coalition, said today there may not be any face-to-face talks between the two delegations on Friday - as had been hoped - but rather mediator Lakhdar Brahimi would continue to shuttle between the two sides.
"I don't think we're ready for that yet. The gap is too big", said al-Maleh.
Brahimi was meeting first with Ahmad al-Jarba, the coalition chief, then with al-Moallem, the U.N. said.
Representatives of Syrian government were staying in Geneva's Hotel de la Paix - or Peace Hotel. The opposition coalition was staying at the Intercontinental.
The talks got off to a tense start Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux.
High-level mediating has yielded little so far, but Brahimi said the two sides might be willing to bend on humanitarian aid, cease-fires and prisoner exchanges.
At another Swiss venue, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Iranian President "Hassan Rouhani" called today for a new election in Syria, saying his nation would respect the results.
Rouhani said "the best solution is to organize a free and fair election in Syria" and once the ballots are cast "we should all accept the outcome".