By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
After five days of deadlock and dispute in the Syrian peace talks, opposition negotiators on Wednesday seized on hints of government willingness to discuss political transition as evidence of progress. Yet the United Nations mediator dampened expectations, saying he did not anticipate any substantial result from the current round of talks, which are scheduled to end Friday.
At the end of a day in which he met the delegations together and separately, the mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, the special United Nations envoy for the Syria conflict, expressed satisfaction over their willingness to talk to each other. At the same time, he acknowledged, “the gap between them is quite large.”
Mr. Brahimi instead expressed hope that the next round of talks, if and when they resume, would be more productive. A date will be discussed Friday, he said.
An opposition spokesman, Louay Safi, sounded more optimistic. He reported “a positive step forward” because the government had for the first time agreed to negotiate within the framework of the communiqué issued at the end of the first Geneva peace conference in June 2012. The agreement calls for the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers.
At first glance, Mr. Safi’s assertion appeared to represent a significant advance from the position established by the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, when the peace conference opened last week. At that time, Mr. Moallem said the focus should be on ending what he called the terrorism practiced by the Syrian opposition, dismissing any idea of transferring power.
Bouthaina Shaaban, a member of the government delegation and an adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the talks on Wednesday had been constructive. But she rejected the idea of a transitional governing body.
Mr. Safi agreed there was a “big gap” between the two sides and said that government negotiators still wanted discussions to focus first on security “in a way that will make the talks not successful.”
Moreover, Mr. Safi asserted, while government negotiators were in Geneva to talk peace, government forces in Syria dropped 20 deadly barrel bombs on Daraya, a Damascus suburb, and escalated bombardments of other locations on Wednesday. His assertions could not be independently confirmed. Each side frequently accuses the other of atrocities in the conflict, which has left an estimated 130,000 people dead and millions displaced
The talks on Wednesday failed to produce any visible resolution of issues, including prisoner exchanges or providing aid supplies to the besieged residents of the Old City district of Homs. The desperation of civilians there was highlighted in a video posted online this week by Father Francis of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
“We do not want to die out of pain and hunger,” he says in Arabic, with English subtitles.
With no progress in Geneva on allowing an aid convoy to drive into Homs, diplomats at the United Nations have been quietly discussing the prospect of introducing a Security Council resolution to press the warring parties in Syria to open access to humanitarian relief, several diplomats said Wednesday.
The would-be resolution is not likely to be binding, diplomats said. It would place Russia, the Syrian government’s staunchest ally on the Council, in the uncomfortable position of having to choose whether to veto the measure. Russia has publicly said it supports allowing aid into the country, but also dismissed the need for a Council resolution.
Mr. Safi said the opposition hoped to use the remaining two days of talks to discuss the size and responsibilities of a transitional government, but diplomats monitoring the process held out little hope of making any significant headway.
It will take perhaps several rounds of talks for the government side to agree to even discuss the details of a transitional government, a European diplomat in Geneva said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the issue is delicate. “Anything that keeps the process going for several rounds is positive,” the diplomat said. “The key is whether Brahimi can get them to come back again.”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/world/middleeast/syria-peace-talks.html?_r=0