UN meditator to arrange peace talks in Syria

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura says first meeting covered initial ideas about peace talks but core issues to be discussed further

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A general view shows damaged buildings as seen from the opposition held Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, Syria on March 13, 2016.

UN meditator for Syria Staffan de Mistura said on Monday following his meeting with representatives from autocrat Bashar al Assad's regime that preparatory ideas were exchanged in the initial peace talks and a further meeting scheduled for Wednesday would focus on core issues.

The Assad regime submitted a document titled "Basic Elements of a Political Solution" to the UN meditator, Bashar Ja'afari, the head of the regime's delegation told reporters after the opening session of the peace talks. Ja'afari said that he had had a positive and constructive meeting with the meditator.

When Mistura was asked about miscommunication between the regime and the opposition, he said that negotiations and peace talks always begin with strong or rhetorical statements.

UN mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to media on the UN sponsored Syria peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland March 14, 2016.

The talks are the first to be held in more than two years and come amid an unprecedented cessation in hostilities sponsored by the Washington and Moscow, which has been accepted by the Assad regime and most mainstream opposition groups.

The cessation, the first of its kind in the five-year-long war that has killed over 250,000 people, has sharply reduced the fighting over the past two weeks, giving rise to hope that this diplomatic initiative will succeed where all previous efforts failed. The cessation was agreed after de Mistura called off a previous attempt to convene talks last month.

The talks must focus on political transition, which is the "mother of all issues," de Mistura said, while separate task forces would keep tackling humanitarian issues and the cessation of hostilities.

"As far as I know, the only Plan B available is return to war, and to even worse war than we had so far."

All sides attending the talks have committed to a political transition that will follow the war, but Assad and his opponents disagree fundamentally on what that means, including whether the president must leave power.

The first round of talks will end around March 24, followed by a break of 7-10 days, then a second round of at least two weeks before another recess and a third round.

"By then we believe we should have at least a clear roadmap. I'm not saying agreement, but a clear roadmap because that's what Syria is expecting from all of us."

De Mistura did not mention whether PYD, the Syrian affiliate of the southeastern Turkey-based PKK terrorist group, would be involved for the first time, but said that the "proximity" format of indirect talks gave him flexibility to hear as many voices as possible, and all Syrians should be given a chance.

The PYD's armed wing YPG, which controls a swathe of northern Syria and is backed by the United States in combat with DAESH, has so far been excluded from talks, in line with the views of Turkey, which considers it a terrorist group.

"The rule of the game will be inclusiveness," de Mistura said.

"In fact, the list of those whom we are going to consult or meet, or will be part of -- eventually, I hope -- not only of proximity negotiations but in fact direct negotiations is going to be constantly updated."

UN meditator Staffan de Mistura also said on Monday, as he opened the first of three rounds of peace talks envisaged to negotiate a "clear roadmap" for a future Syria that the country faces a moment of truth.

Saying there was no "plan B" but a return to war, de Mistura asked to hear from all sides, but said he would have no hesitation in calling in the big powers, led by the United States and Russia, if the talks get bogged down.

"If during these talks and in the next rounds we will see no notice of any willingness to negotiate... we will bring the issue back to those who have influence, and that is the Russian Federation, the USA... and to the Security Council," he told a news conference.

TRTWorld, Reuters