UN blames Damascus for peace talks failure after regime only focuses on 'fight against terrorism'

UN blames Damascus for peace talks failure after regime only focuses on 'fight against terrorism'
UN's Staffan de Mistura has hit out at the Syrian regime for having no interest in peace talks besides the fight "against terrorism".
3 min read
15 December, 2017
Staffan de Mistura blamed Damascus for the 'golden opportunity missed' [Getty]
The UN envoy for Syria acknowledged on Thursday that the latest round of peace talks for the war-ravaged country had failed, and blamed Damascus for the "golden opportunity missed".

Staffan de Mistura told reporters that "we did not have real negotiations," blaming in particular the government delegation's apparent lack of interest in discussing anything besides the fight against "terrorism".

His statement came at the end of the eighth round of indirect talks in Geneva between delegations representing Damascus and the opposition in Syria's brutal, nearly seven-year war.

Seven previous rounds of talks mediated by De Mistura have also gone nowhere and the rival sides have not yet met face-to-face.

The UN mediator, who has described himself as a "chronic optimist" and highlights incremental progress where others see stalemate, had voiced hope that the eighth round that opened on November 28, would mark the first "real negotiation". 


But as the round fizzled out on Thursday, he acknowledged he was "disappointed."

"In spite of lots of efforts of my whole team, we did not have real negotiations," he told reporters.

While the opposition, which was united in one delegation for the first time, had seriously engaged in all subjects on the table, he said "the government engaged sadly only on one subject... terrorism."

Asked about the next steps, De Mistura said he would discuss the matter with UN chief Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council, but that he hoped to organise a new round of talks next month.

"We are not going to give up," he said, stressing the need to find a political solution to the conflict that has killed more than 340,000 people since March 2011.

Talks this month have snagged on the issue of President Bashar al-Assad's future, with the opposition delegation defying calls to give up its demand that the president must go as part of any peace deal.

The Syrian government's top negotiator, Bashar al-Jaafari, slammed the opposition for "placing preconditions for the Geneva talks", and flatly rejected their call for direct negotiations until they dropped the demand.

"We don't have a partner," head of the opposition delegation Nasr al-Hariri complained to reporters.

A parallel process organised by Moscow and including fellow government ally Iran and rebel backer Turkey, is set to resume next week in Astana, Kazakhstan.

De Mistura said he planned to attend that meeting.

The Kremlin also hopes to convene a political congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which would bring together regime officials and the opposition to reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.

The opposition and Western diplomats are concerned that the Sochi meeting might be part of an effort by Moscow to circumvent the UN talks and impose a solution favourable to Assad.

De Mistura said he did not yet have enough information about the Sochi event to voice an opinion.

But he warned that "if the government is not willing to meet anyone who seems to have any type of different opinion and is not willing to discuss constitution and elections... I would be very concerned if I were those organising Sochi or any other initiatives."