U.N envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi gestures during a press briefing on peace talks at the United Nations on January 29, 2014 in Geneva.
U.N envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi gestures during a press briefing on peace talks at the United Nations on January 29, 2014 in Geneva.
News   /   Syrian Crisis

International mediator "Lakhdar Brahimi" said today that he does not expect to achieve anything substantive in the first round of Syria talks ending on Friday, but hoped for a more productive second round starting about a week later.

His sombre assessment came as the two sides took a first tentative step forward by agreeing to use the same 2012 roadmap as the basis of discussions to end the three-year crisis, though they disagreed about how talks should proceed.

Brahimi told reporters that "we talked about the TGB (Transitional Governing Body), but of course it is a very, very preliminary discussion and more generally of what each side expects".

Asked his expectations for the first week-long round expected to end on Friday, he said: "To be blunt, I do not expect that we will achieve anything substantive".

He said "I am very happy that we are still talking, but the ice is breaking slowly. But it is breaking", adding that he was not disappointed.

Opposition and government sides said they agreed to use the "Geneva communique", a document endorsed by world powers at a conference in June 2012, and which sets out the stages needed to end the fighting and agree on a political transition.

"We have agreed that Geneva 1 is the basis of the talks," opposition spokesman Louay al-Safi told reporters.

The Syrian government delegation, which had earlier submitted its own document that it wanted the talks to focus on, said it would use the Geneva communique, with reservations. Syrian television said the government wanted to discuss the text of Geneva-1 "paragraph by paragraph".

While the opposition wants to start by addressing the question of the transitional governing body that the talks aim to create, the government says the first step is to discuss "terrorism".

There was still no sign of a breakthrough in attempts to relieve the suffering of thousands of besieged residents of the Old City of Homs, an issue that had been put forward to break the ice and build confidence at the start of the talks.

"We also tried to see what is happening over the humanitarian issues, in particular about Homs. Negotiations between the United Nations and the Syrian authorities are still ongoing", Brahimi said of the stalled U.N. aid convoy.

Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said "Mr Brahimi said tomorrow they are going to discuss terrorism because stopping terrorism is the first issue that should be handled".

The Geneva communique refers to the government and "armed opposition groups", but there is no mention of "terrorism" or "terrorists", terms used by the Syrian government to describe those fighting Syrian Army.

The opposition delegation wants discussion of the transitional governing body to come first, including its size and responsibilities, Safi said.

"They seem to be more ready to discuss that issue, but still they are trying to push it to the back of the discussion. We told them this has to come first, because nothing else can be achieved unless we can form the transitional governing body." 

Despite contradictory interpretations of Geneva 1 by the two sides, organizers of the talks at United Nations headquarters in Geneva have made it a priority to keep the process going and dissuade either side from walking out.

The United States and Russia, the joint sponsors of the conference, agreed on Wednesday to increase pressure on the two sides to reach a compromise, Russia's state-run RIA news agency reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Brahimi said he was in touch with both powers and hoped that they would exert greater influence in the future.

A Western diplomat said it was positive that the parties were still at the table. 

The diplomat said "we don't think this is a process that should last years, but it's clear that after three years of civil war, a week isn't going to resolve it", noting "what we hope is that by the end of the week there will be sufficient common ground so that they agree to meet again and hopefully something tangible comes out on the humanitarian side".

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