Official: U.S. did not seek direct negotiations with Damascus at Geneva
The U.S. State Department on Saturday denied that it had sought to have direct negotiations with the Syrian regime at the Geneva II peace talks.
Washington was forced to deny the claims after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told Syria’s state media on his way home from the Switzerland-based peace talks that U.S. Secretary of State wanted to meet with the Syrian regime alone.
"The Americans asked us to negotiate directly with them in Montreux…but we refused to do so before Secretary of State John Kerry apologised for what he said at the conference," Muallem added, in remarks carried by state news agency SANA, according to Agence France Presse.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki dismissed Muallem’s claims that the U.S. sought to have direct negotiations.
Psaki said that the U.S. had offered to connect with the Syrians "on a staff level" through Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi and the United Nations "because we are focused on ending the suffering of the Syrian people, and as we have throughout the conflict," in a statement to AFP.
"At no point did the United States offer to negotiate directly with the Syrian regime and at no point will Secretary Kerry ever apologize for speaking the truth about the brutality the Assad regime has inflicted on the people of Syria," Psaki added, AFP reported.
Syria’s government and opposition sat down for the so-called Geneva II talks in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22, alongside dozens of other nations who have been polarized by the conflict.
During his opening statements at the Geneva conference, Kerry said that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad will “not be part” of any transitional government, AFP added.
"There is no way, not possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain legitimacy to govern," Kerry added.
No progress on ceasefires, humanitarian aid or the question of a transitional government was made during the 10 days of talks.
The Syrian government sought to focus the talks on "terrorism", the term it uses to describe the actions of all those who oppose Assad.
A second round of negotiations is scheduled for February 10, and the Syrian government has already committed itself to attend.
Muallem said his team would confer with Damascus before announcing whether or not it would attend.