Syria War Foes Meet Face-to-Face With UN Mediator Brahimi

Syria’s war opponents sat down for a second day of face-to-face talks to discuss the release of prisoners, as the United Nations mediator set his sights on small achievements that could keep peace talks alive.

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. While delegates from the Syrian opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad remain divided on the Syrian leader’s future, they sat down together for the first time in Geneva yesterday, speaking through lead mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

In that meeting, delegations focused on the humanitarian situation in the central city of Homs. The opposition wants humanitarian corridors created so food, medicine and other supplies could reach thousands of residents besieged by government troops in the old part of the city. The government says aid should be delivered countrywide, not only “to a small area in Homs city,” state-run SANA news agency said.

Yesterday’s meetings didn’t achieve much “but we are continuing,” Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, told reporters last night.

Starting with humanitarian issues is a prelude to “the people getting accustomed to talking to each other,” Brahimi said. “If we achieve success on Homs, we hope that this would be the beginning to discuss other issues,” he said.

Assad’s Role

Before the two delegations agreed to meet yesterday in the same room, Brahimi had shuttled between them. Talks are expected to last until Jan. 31, and the two sides will meet again following a break to be determined by Brahimi, opposition spokeswoman Rafif Jouejati said today.

Since talks began in Montreux, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, the two sides have remained far apart on whether Assad can play a part in a transitional government that is the goal of the UN-backed process.

Brahimi stressed yesterday that the negotiations will “without doubt” tackle Geneva I, the international agreement reached in June 2012 that calls for establishing a transitional government in Syria by mutual consent.

The UN mediator has acknowledged that the sides have different interpretations of Assad’s future in a political transition. The opposition has said Assad can play no role, a position backed by the U.S. and its European and Arab allies. Russia, one of Assad’s main allies, argues that the formation of a transitional government doesn’t mean regime change.

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