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Syria Peace Talks Open With Negotiators in Separate Rooms

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, center, arrives at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Photographer: Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations began to mediate the first detailed peace negotiations between Syria’s government and rebels in Switzerland today, after its original plans for face-to-face talks were derailed.

The UN’s chief mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is aiming to bring representatives of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition seeking his overthrow into one room later today, UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters in Geneva.

Brahimi said on Jan. 22 that the UN may seek an initial agreement on issues including local cease-fires and the delivery of humanitarian aid before moving onto a broader outline agreement.

The Syrian government had agreed to face-to-face talks and was “surprised that it did not take place,” Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told journalists. The opposition spokesman Rifaf Jouejati said by phone that direct talks couldn’t start until Assad’s representatives accepted the 2012 Gevena communique on a transitional government.

The UN is leading international efforts to bring an end to Syria’s three-year civil war, which has killed at least 130,000 people and caused 2.4 million to flee their homeland. The talks opened on Jan. 22 in Montreux, Switzerland, with the two sides offering divergent interpretations of Geneva I, with the rebels saying Assad must go and the government saying he should stay.

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