Sun, Feb 02, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Opposing sides trade jabs as Syrian peace talks end

MORE TO COME?Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the lack of results means his government will consider whether it makes sense to return for a second round

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

Syria’s warring sides have traded barbs over the failure to achieve concrete results at peace talks in Geneva, amid doubts over the regime’s participation in a planned new round this month.

No ceasefire was agreed as the talks wound up on Friday, talks on a transitional government never began, and a deal to allow aid into besieged rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs went nowhere.

Clouding the horizon further, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nearly 1,900 people had been killed since the talks began a week ago.

Washington also warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he could face consequences for failing to live up to international agreements on removing his chemical weapons stockpile.

In Geneva, the week of closed-door negotiations ended with the opposing sides continuing to spar over who is to blame for the conflict that has claimed 130,000 lives.

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who orchestrated the first meeting between the two sides since the conflict erupted in March 2011, said he aimed to host a second round of talks starting on Feb. 10.

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said there were no “tangible results” from the Geneva talks, and that al-Assad and his government would ponder whether it made sense to return for a second round.

That sparked criticism from key opposition supporter the US.

“The regime continues to play games,” US Department of State spokesman Edgar Vasquez said.

Opposition chief Ahmad Jarba confirmed his team would be back, even though sitting down with the regime for the first time since the start of the war was like “drinking from a poisoned chalice.”

However, he said that its presence was conditional on receiving “the means to defend our people on the ground.”

“The pace of supporting our revolutionaries is quickening, as you may have heard in recent days,” he said.

Unconfirmed media reports this week alleged that the US Congress had secretly approved resuming weapons deliveries to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions.

Working to rally support, Jarba on Tuesday is scheduled to visit Russia, al-Assad’s main ally on the global stage.

A senior US official hailed the planned visit, stressing that it indicated “the Russian side recognizes that the opposition National Coalition also has a role to play in resolving the Syrian conflict.”

Brahimi has urged the US and Russia, which struggled for eight months to get the warring parties to the table, as well as others to exercise their influence to end the bloodshed in Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters ahead of talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Damascus was not complying with the US-Russian agreed timetable for shipping out its chemical weapons stockpile.

Kerry said that the civil war in the country was “destabilizing the entire region.”

Later he met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of a Munich Security Conference, with Syria high on the agenda.

A senior US State Department official said Kerry pressed Lavrov to put more pressure on Damascus to make real progress on destroying its chemical weapons arsenal.

Neither of the negotiating sides seemed to budge an inch from their long-held positions in Geneva, where the talks revolved around a never-implemented roadmap to peace drawn up by world powers in 2012.

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