Syrian Deputy Forign Minister Faisal Meqdad (L) and Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi arrive to speak to the press before a meeting at the ”Geneva-2” peace talks in Geneva on January 25, 2014
Syrian Deputy Forign Minister Faisal Meqdad (L) and Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi arrive to speak to the press before a meeting at the ”Geneva-2” peace talks in Geneva on January 25, 2014
News   /   Syrian Crisis

Syrian government and opposition held their first face-to-face meeting today at the start of talks to end nearly three years of conflict which has killed 130,000 people and destabilised the wider Middle East.

After a day of delay and fierce recrimination, government and opposition delegates faced each other across a negotiating table at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva in the presence of international mediator "Lakhdar Brahimi".

The two parties entered and left the room through separate doors, sitting in silence for half an hour while Brahimi set out his plans - an immediate focus on humanitarian aid which diplomats have described as a confidence-building measure, followed by political talks to resolve the conflict.

"He told us this is a political conference ... based on Geneva-1," opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah said, referring to a June 2012 declaration calling for the establishment in Syria of a transitional governing body by mutual agreement.

Syrian government delegation said it broadly accepted Geneva-1, but reiterated its longstanding opposition to idea of a transitional body, saying it was inappropriate and unnecessary.

Information Minister "Omran al-Zoubi" said "we have complete reservations regarding it", comparing the proposal to the transitional government set up in Iraq by U.S occupation forces after they toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He stressed " Syria is a state with institutions", adding "a transitional governing body ... happens where the state is in disintegration, or has no institutions".

The opposition has insisted that the government delegation accept the principle of setting up the transitional body. The president says only Syrian voters can choose their ruler and that he may well stand again in an election due to be held by June this year.

Delegates reconvened at around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT), a U.N spokeswoman said, and were expected to discuss a possible deal on a short ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Homs.

The peace conference almost collapsed on Friday, the day face-to-face talks were meant to start. "We do expect some bumps on the road", Brahimi said after separate meetings with the parties.

One diplomatic source said progress had been slow.

The source said that "small steps, but small steps are better than no steps", noting that "It's clear there will be hysterical episodes each day".

Brahimi had already indicated that his aim was to start by seeking practical steps, such as local ceasefires, prisoner releases and access for international aid deliveries, before embarking on the tougher political negotiations.

French Foreign Minister "Laurent Fabius" told France 24 television that "I think an immediate political solution is unrealistic, unfortunately".

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