EU foreign policy chief joins Syria peace talks

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini joins Syria peace talks in Geneva

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini.

Updated Mar 24, 2016

The EU sent its foreign policy chief to Geneva on Wednesday to breathe new life into Syrian peace talks, as the two sides remained at odds over the country's political future.

Federica Mogherini spoke to negotiators on both sides, and the head of the Syrian regime delegation, Bashar Ja'afari, said after his meeting that he believed an impasse in the talks had been broken.

But he was told by the EU and UN that accelerating a political transition in Syria - a major sticking point given fundamental disagreements between the warring parties over the fate of Syria’s Bashar al Assad - was the only way to defeat groups like DAESH terror organidation.

Mogherini arrived unexpectedly on what was the penultimate day of the round of negotiations, possibly highlighting EU concerns that the talks risk getting deadlocked.

"She came to support us to engage positively in the talks that would lead to an end to the Syrian crisis," Ja'afari said after the rare meeting with a senior Western official.

"For the first time, I can tell you that we were able to break the impasse, maybe in the form and a little bit in substance."

The five-year-old conflict between the regime and insurgents has killed more than 250,000 people, allowed DAESH to take control of some eastern areas and caused the world's worst refugee crisis.

With a fragile truce in place in Syria, warring sides are more than a week into talks on ending the conflict, but Syrian regime has rejected any discussion on a political transition or the fate of Assad, who opposition leaders say must go as part of any such plan.

After the attacks in Brussels claimed by DAESH, Ja'afari again insisted on Wednesday that fighting terrorism had to come before any discussion of political transition.

"My main message especially in meeting with that [Syrian regime] delegation is the need to start a political transition in Damascus," Mogherini told reporters, stressing that there had been no change in the EU's position on the "Syrian regime."

"This in our opinion is the only way create conditions in the country to first find peace and security and secondly defeat DAESH."

Forensics experts arrive at the Maalbeek metro station following an explosion in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. (Reuters)

UN special envoy Staffan De Mistura echoed her comments.

"So the ball goes back to those who have been complaining about terrorism and (we're) saying what about all of you helping us to solve politically the crisis in Syria," he said.

Mogherini's visit coincided with high-level meetings in Moscow between Russian and US officials, which de Mistura has said he hopes will give an impetus to the talks, just as they did by engineering a cessation of hostilities that came into effect almost three weeks ago.

Common ground document

Activists and diplomats said de Mistura was finalising a document to present to delegates on Thursday that will synthesise common points of convergence, but is likely to stay clear of the divisive political transition issue.

Ja'afari said he had received a document from de Mistura that his delegation would respond to at the beginning of the next round, though the Syrian regime could not return before its parliamentary elections on April 13.

De Mistura said on Tuesday that he aimed to establish if there were any points held in common by the different parties. If successful, he would announce these on Thursday.

UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura. (Reuters)

Randa Kassis, representing a Moscow-backed opposition group, said de Mistura would distribute a document of common points gathered from the various delegates.

Points included creating a future unified Syrian regime forces to fight terrorism or ensuring a democratic and non-sectarian based Syria.

"We're waiting for a US-Russian accord to solve the [key] issue once and for all. Until they resolve it this process will drag on," Kassis said.

Asaad al-Zoubi, head of the HNC's delegation, whose chief coordinator Riad Hijab met de Mistura and Mogherini on Wednesday, said on Tuesday it was "obvious" there were no points of convergence with the Syrian regime and accused it of renewing sieges and barrel bombing campaigns against civilians.


TRTWorld, Reuters