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Thursday, 4 February 2016

UN adjourns Syria talks, asks big powers for help

Wednesday, 03 February 2016 19:55

U.N.-mediated talks to end the war in Syria are on pause until Feb. 25, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday, saying the talks had not failed but needed immediate help from international backers led by the United States and Russia.

"I have concluded frankly that after the first week of preparatory talks there is more work to be done, not only by us but by the stakeholders," he said, according to Reuters.

"I have indicated from the first day that I won't talk for the sake of talking."

He was speaking after meeting opposition coordinator Riad Hijab, who had just arrived in Geneva.

De Mistura had overseen several days of stuttering progress and postponed meetings, without ever getting the two sides in a dialogue.

After meeting Hijab, De Mistura raced across town to meet the government delegation, whose leader Bashar Ja'afari told reporters he had known for "hours" that the opposition wanted to withdraw and accused De Mistura of pausing the talks to avert a walk-out.

"We consider that the style used by the Special Envoy to justify the withdrawal of Riyadh delegation under instructions from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey was not subjective. It didn't say the truth as it was," Ja'afari said.

Those regional powers, along with the United States, Russia Iran and others, comprise the "International Syria Support Group" (ISSG), which has thrown its weight behind De Mistura's initiative, without always agreeing on how he should go about it.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other top ISSG diplomats are expected to meet at the annual Munich security conference on Feb. 11.

"I will be asking for the ISSG to convene as soon as possible, hopefully in Munich, and for the U.N. Security Council to meet and reconvene on Feb. 25," De Mistura said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said he saw an opportunity for negotiations at the Munich conference.

De Mistura said he planned to go to London for a Syria humanitarian pledging conference on Thursday, since the plight of Syria's 5 million refugees would be an additional incentive to reconvene the talks.

The Swedish-Italian diplomat apologised to reporters who had waited in sleet and hail while he spent 2 1/2 hours meeting the opposition delegation. He said he was neither frustrated nor disappointed by having to pause the talks.

"I have been long enough at the U.N. to know that when you have a five-year war that has had so many difficult moments you have to be determined but also realistic."

The preparatory phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva is likely to take longer than anticipated, the head of the Syrian government delegation said earlier to Reuters..

"It seems the first phase of preparations will take a much longer time expected and we don't know yet when we will finish," government delegation chief Bashar al-Ja'afari told Reuters in an interview. "The official discussions did not take off yet unfortunately. We are still discussing how to proceed."

Ja'afari said the government was still unclear on who its interlocutors would be, how many delegations they would face and the names of all participants.

"I couldn't tell you much about what's going on because we are waiting for Godot and Godot hasn't come yet," he said.

Godot was a fictional character in the Samuel Beckett play "Waiting for Godot." In the play, two other characters wait for someone called Godot who never arrives.

"We can't cut and paste with regard to the interest of the people," Ja'afari said. "Everything in Syria is important, everything is a priority for us.

"The issue of selecting Mouadamiya or another area or town is a public relations campaign launched by the so-called opposition," he said.

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