Syrian Foes End Peace Talks With Gap Still ‘Wide,’ Shaaban Says

The first round of Syrian peace talks ends today with the gap between the warring sides “still wide,” Bouthaina Shaaban, adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said in an interview.

Negotiators, who have been meeting for a week in talks hosted by the United Nations, went to Geneva with different priorities. The opposition wanted to focus on establishing a transitional government in which Assad would have no role, while the government put tackling terrorism, a term it uses to describe the range of rebel groups, at the top of its agenda.

“The other side is jumping to how to formulate a government,” said Shaaban in a telephone interview from Geneva. “I don’t think this is the right thing to do unless their only interest is to achieve a position in government.”

Shaaban said that while little or no progress had been made on substantive issues, the fact that talks “went on for a week uninterrupted is a good thing.”

For Assad’s government, the talks were also a platform “to present what are the most pressing issues for our people and what are the steps which are needed in order to alleviate the suffering of our people,” she added. “It’s a good beginning.”

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 end today and are expected to resume after a break that UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will determine.

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