Russia, U.S. meet in hope of breathing new life into Syria flagging peace talks
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman during the second round of negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 13, 2014. [AFP]
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U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi held a trilateral meeting with U.S. and Russian diplomats in Geneva on Tuesday in hope of breathing new life into the stalled peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.
Brahimi met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in an attempt to unblock the process.
Both the U.S. and Russian diplomats looked tense as they arrived at the U.N. Thursday afternoon, although Sherman mustered a short wave to the sea of waiting cameras.
A standoff between Russia and Western powers left their rival Syrian allies deadlocked in talks at Geneva on Thursday as fighting went on that has left tens of thousands under siege and hoping for relief from abroad.
Russia said it had presented a draft U.N. resolution on fighting “terrorism” in Syria and its own plan for improving aid access, throwing down a challenge to Western states in the Security Council which proposed another formulation that Moscow said would open the way for Western military intervention.
In Geneva, where a second round of peace talks has made little progress since Monday, Western diplomats and the Syrian opposition delegates complained that President Bashar al-Assad's government was refusing to discuss international proposals for a transition of power and hoped Russia would press it to do so.
“The presence now of the United States and Russia comes at the right time,” opposition chief negotiator Hadi Bahra told AFP, insisting they needed to “pressure the regime to be more serious” if they wanted it to continue.
The talks that began on Jan. 22 were initiated by Washington, which backs the opposition, and Moscow, a key ally of Syria, according to AFP.
Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, told AFP late Wednesday the Russians “intend to push these negotiations and make them succeed.”
“This was the main topic in the long meeting between Mr. Muallem and Mr. Gatilov,” he said, stressing though that “We believe all the pressure should be put on the other side.”
Opposition spokesman Louay Safi meanwhile told reporters that Washington and Moscow “should and can play a constructive role in pushing the negotiations forward.”
If that fails though, he insisted Brahimi would have to report to the Security Council that the talks have broken down.
“We don't know whether there will be a third round at this point,” he said.
In a bid to get the ball rolling, Russia has also proposed a collective meeting with the U.N., Washington, Moscow and the Syrian foes.
Washington and the Syrian opposition have said they could support such a move, while the regime has voiced skepticism.
The so-called Geneva II negotiations have so far done nothing to end the nearly three-year civil war which has claimed more than 136,000 lives and forced millions from their homes.
When the talks first began last month, Washington and especially Moscow remained on the sidelines, allowing the U.N. and Brahimi to run the show.
But while the first round was seen as a relative success for getting the sides to meet face-to-face, the current round, which began Monday and is expected to last into Saturday, has achieved little beyond a restating of positions.
In Switzerland, the opposition National Coalition laid out a transition plan, including evicting foreign fighters and a process towards elections.
But the government refused to discuss it, insisting the battle against what it calls rebel “terrorism” had to be completely resolved before politics could be discussed.