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Regime threatens to quit troubled Syria peace talks

Last Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 - 21:02

Geneva: Syria`s regime threatened to quit peace talks in Geneva on Friday as UN-backed efforts to bring the country`s warring sides together stumbled on their first day.

Syrian state television said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had told UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi that "should serious sessions fail to take place tomorrow, the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva."

Muallem told Brahimi "the Syrian delegation is serious and ready to start, but the other side is not," it said.

Pulled together by the United Nations, Russia and the United States, delegations from President Bashar al-Assad`s regime and the opposition had been due to sit down today at UN headquarters in Geneva.

Brahimi spent yesterday trying to convince them to be in the same room for the start of the talks -- the biggest diplomatic effort yet to stem the bloodshed in Syria`s devastating civil war.

But UN officials said he had failed and would again meet separately with each delegation.

"This process is shaping up, so there have been changes to previous declarations," UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters. "We are going step by step."

The UN said Brahimi had met with the regime delegation and would see the opposition around 4:00 pm (1500 GMT).

Sources within the delegations told the opposition had refused to sit in the same room unless the regime accepted the need for a transitional government without Assad.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad told reporters the opposition was obstructing the talks.

"The problem is that these people do not want to make peace, they are coming here with pre-conditions," he told reporters. "Of course we are ready to sit in the same room. Why are we coming here then?"

Nazir al-Hakim, a member of the opposition delegation, told it was only willing to negotiate on the basis of the agreement reached at the "Geneva I" peace conference in 2012, which called for the creation of a transitional government.

"We agree to negotiate on the application of Geneva I. The regime does not accept that," he said.
"We will be in the same room when there is a clear agenda for negotiations. We need guarantees that Geneva I will be discussed," Hakim said.

The regime rejects the opposition`s contention that the Geneva I agreement requires Assad to go.

Expectations are very low for a breakthrough at the Geneva II discussions, which officials have said could last up to 10 days. But diplomats believe that simply bringing the two sides together for the first time is a mark of progress and could be an important first step.

First Published: Friday, January 24, 2014 - 18:07
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