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Brahimi: Little progress at second round of Geneva II talks - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, left, gestures during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Switzerland, Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, left, gestures during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Switzerland, Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Geneva, Asharq Al-Awsat—United Nations mediator at the Geneva II talks Lakhdar Brahimi said that the second round of discussions between the Syrian government and opposition have made little progress this week since the restart of negotiations on Monday.

Speaking at a news conference in Geneva following a joint meeting between representatives of the government of President Bashar Al-Assad and an opposition Syrian National Coalition delegation, Brahimi said: “The beginning of this week is laborious as it was in the first week. We are not making much progress,” adding: “Of course, for it to really take off we need cooperation from both sides here and a lot of support from the outside.”

Responding to a question as to why he could not impose an agenda on the two sides, Brahimi said that he could not “put a gun to their heads” to force the Syrian government and opposition to reach an agreement. “I have a gun but I don’t want to use it,” he added.

The UN envoy to Syria also confirmed that he is set to meet with US and Russian diplomats on Friday, with delegates from both sides also possibly holding bilateral meetings with US and Russian officials. UN officials confirmed that the trilateral meeting in Geneva on Friday will be attended by Brahimi, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov and US Under-Secretary of state for political affairs Wendy Sherman.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Monday that Moscow had proposed the trilateral meeting in an attempt to force through a political breakthrough.

US State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have always supported the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, and if more meetings are needed to help push the negotiations forward, then we are prepared to discuss that.”

The second round of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition started in Geneva on Monday, although the first joint-meeting was only held on Tuesday, with both parties pointing the finger at the other over the lack of progress.

The Syrian government’s delegation announced that no agenda had been agreed for the second round of peace talks, criticizing the opposition’s refusal to discuss “terrorism.”

“Another lost day because the representatives of the [Syrian National] Coalition insisted that terrorism in Syria does not exist and did not want to discuss it,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Tuesday. “This should be the priority for any Syrian .  .  . After that we are ready to discuss anything,” he said.

A senior member of the Syrian opposition delegation, Monzer Akbik, told reporters on Tuesday that the Coalition had outlined its “vision for the political solution in Syria,” adding that Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers had also arrived in Geneva to take part in the talks. He confirmed that the FSA officers were set to establish a “military advisory room” to help coordinate security issues related to the talks.

“I think this is going to enhance the performance of our team [at the negotiations] and will enhance the linkage with the FSA on the ground,” Akbik added.

An operation to evacuate civilians from rebel-held areas of Homs was suspended on Tuesday due to “logistical problems,” the Homs provincial governor told Agence France-Presse.

“Today, operations didn’t take place for logistical and technical reasons,” Homs governor Talal Barazi said, adding that “the evacuation of civilians and delivery of food aid will continue tomorrow morning.”

Speaking during the press conference on Tuesday, Brahimi portrayed the UN-brokered deal in Homs as a qualified success. He said: “The Homs case was a success, but it took six months to get hundreds of people out and some aid in.”

Brahimi praised the Syrian Arab Red Cross for its role in the deal, lauding the Red Cross members for the risks they were taking in overseeing the truce.

“We owe it to the Syrian people to move faster than we are moving. Homs can be called a success, but the deal was six months in the making,” he said.

The Syrian opposition has criticized the Assad delegation’s reluctance to talk about a “transitional governing mechanism.” The opposition fears that the government delegation’s focus of a “transitional government” could be part of a ploy to reshuffle the government, but with Assad remaining as president.

The Coalition delegation member Anas Al-Abdeh told Asharq Al-Awsat that the establishment of a “transitional governing mechanism” was the main objective of the negotiations. “This is in order to establish a neutral base from which a ceasefire can be achieved and violence can be stopped,” he said.

Abdeh said: “We insist on the transitional governing body because it is the start of a political solution. It is not possible to achieve a ceasefire without a neutral environment that could be created by a transitional governing body.

“What happened in Homs is evidence that the government is unable to adhere to any pledge of a ceasefire,” Abdeh told Asharq Al-Awsat.

More than three hundred male evacuees from Homs have been held by the Syrian government for “screening” after leaving the city following the ceasefire. Barazi confirmed that 111 men had been questioned and released, while 190 others were still being held.

Commenting on talks between the Coalition and the National Coordination Committee (NCC) in Cairo, Abdeh confirmed that three NCC representative were expected to join the next round of talks in Geneva. He also confirmed that a total of seven FSA officers had joined the opposition delegation.

“The Syrian National Coalition will accept the largest possible number of representatives from all fighting factions of the revolution,” he said, adding that they will participate in all negotiations related to security and military issues, including ceasefire talks.

A second Coalition delegation member, Rima Fleihan, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Syrian opposition had presented Brahimi with a document outlining the Syrian regime’s humanitarian violations based on “independent international reports from organizations such as the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.”

Fleihan told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This file comprised six pages with 1,000 pages of attachments documenting the regime’s violence and brutality, as well as its war crimes and human rights violations.”

In related news, Western diplomatic sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that work was ongoing on a UN draft resolution calling for both parties of the conflict to allow humanitarian aid to reach Syrian civilians.

Countries sponsoring the draft resolution—France, Britain, Luxemburg, Australia and Jordan—are awaiting a statement from UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos at the Security Council on Thursday.

However, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad dismissed the draft resolution plan, saying: “We are confident that this will not go through.”