International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday that “ice is breaking” over Syria peace talks in Geneva, although he does not expect to achieve “anything substantive” in the first round of the talks.
“To be blunt, I do not expect that we will achieve anything substantive. I am very happy that we are still talking, but the ice is breaking slowly, but it is breaking,” Brahimi told a news conference after meeting delegations from the Syrian government and opposition for preliminary talks on a transitional governing body proposed in a 2012 Geneva I communique.
Brahimi said the talks will end on Friday and the second round will resume about a week later.
He voiced hope that Russia and the United States would exert greater influence over the two sides of the Syrian conflict to bridge “quite large” gaps.
He also added that the United Nations and the Syrian government is still negotiating access for aid to the rebel-held Old City of Homs.
His statements come after Syrian government and opposition negotiators said that talks moved a step forward on Wednesday after four days of deadlock.
Opposition representatives said on Wednesday that for the first time, they had discussed the establishment of the transitional government with officials from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The Syrian government’s delegation also said that “positive” talks had started on the Geneva I communique - the statement put out by global powers during talks in the Swiss city in 2012 - while stressing that the focus was on ending violence and “stopping terrorism.”
“Today we had a positive step forward because for the first time now we are talking about the transitional governing body, to end dictatorship and end the fighting and the misery in Syria,” opposition delegation spokesman Louay Safi told reporters.
“We have not really discussed details, but the general framework for the discussions about the transitional governing body,” he said, adding that among the topics would be the size, responsibilities and timeframe of a transitional body.
Syrian government delegation member Buthaina Shaaban confirmed that talks on the Geneva communique had begun, but said “the first item is to stop violence which now has turned into terrorism.”
Pointing to extremist Islamist groups among rebel forces, the regime has accused the opposition and its foreign supporters of backing “terrorism” in the mold of al-Qaeda.
“The talks have been positive today actually, because they spoke about terrorism, they spoke about Geneva I,” Shaaban said.
“The only difference between us and them, which is a major difference, is we want to discuss Geneva I item by item starting from the first item...They want to jump to the item that speaks about the transitional government, and they're only interested in being in government, while what we are interested in is to stop this horrid war.”
Safi and Shaaban spoke after a meeting between government and opposition delegates with the U.N. and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
A deal to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged central city of Homs remain stalled, with the Syrian delegation demanding assurances that U.S. aid will not go to “armed and terrorist groups” in the central city.
The negotiations aimed at ending Syria's three-year-old conflict began last week in Geneva.
The talks were cut short on Tuesday over the U.S. decision to restart deliveries of non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, more than a month after al-Qaeda-linked militants seized warehouses and prompted a sudden cutoff of Western supplies to the rebels.
The officials said that communications equipment and other items are being funneled only to non-armed opposition groups, but the move boosts Syria's beleaguered rebels, who have seen their international support waver, in part due to extremists among their ranks.
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