‘No small thing’ to get Syria foes talking: US official
While a first round of Syria peace talks in Geneva ended Friday with no concrete results, getting Syria's foes talking is a step in the right direction, a senior US official said.
“It is, I think, significant that throughout the week the two sides agreed to stay in the room … to talk to each other. That is not a small thing,” the US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“I can’t say that they got a lot accomplished, but then, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect quick results, (considering) the very bitter conflict,” he added.
Syria’s conflict, which erupted nearly three years ago, has claimed over 130,000 lives and driven some nine million people from their homes.
Washington hoped a second round of talks, which are tentatively scheduled to start on February 10 — if Damascus gives the green light — “will be more substantive,” the US official said.
But, he added, “I don’t think round two will produce giant breakthroughs either.”
The United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, the Syrian regime’s main international ally, struggled for eight months to get the warring parties to the UN-hosted talks in Geneva.
But a full week of talks made no progress on the core issues: no ceasefire was agreed, 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.
The head of the opposition National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, was scheduled to visit officials in Russia Tuesday in a bid to rally support ahead of the anticipated second round.
This was a good thing, according to the US official, who said American and Russian teams had met with each other daily on the sidelines of the Geneva talks and pointed out that the two countries’ top diplomats were set to meet in Germany Friday evening.
“That to me indicates that the Russian side recognises that the opposition National Coalition also has a role to play in resolving the Syrian conflict,” he said.
“I don’t know that it signals a huge change in the Russian position, but I do think it’s positive that the Russians hear clearly what are the concerns of the (opposition) Coalition,” he added.
The Americans had meanwhile not met once with the Syrian regime delegation during the week in Geneva,” the official said.
Both sides, he said, appeared “satisfied with the level of interaction right now.”