x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Brahimi tries to bring Assad regime and opponents to the table

In a defiant speech, Ahmed Jarba added that the international community had now realised there was no future for Mr Al Assad.

GENEVA // UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi shuttled between Syria’s warring sides on Thursday to gauge if they are willing to negotiate face to face after day one of a peace conference ended in bitter exchanges.

But Bashar Al Assad’s regime and the opposition that wants to overthrow him remained at loggerheads by early evening.

Mr Brahimi first met Ahmad Jarba, the opposition coalition chief, then with Syrian foreign minister Walid Al Moallem, the United Nations said.

Syria’s government declared that its main priority was stopping terrorism and not peace while the opposition hinted it was far from ready to negotiate directly with the government it wants to overthrow.

On the day that the two sides were meeting separately with a Mr Brahimi, who is known for untangling diplomatic knots, their comments affirmed positions hardened by nearly three years of civil war.

The goal of direct talks by on Friday appeared distant.

Mr Al Moallem, speaking after the tense opening day of a peace conference that has nearly fallen apart at every step, said his government’s priority was to “to fight terrorism”.

“This paves the way for the start of the political process and an internal Syrian dialogue without any foreign intervention,” he said.

Haitham Al Maleh, a veteran Syrian opposition figure and a senior member of the opposition coalition, said there may not be any face-to-face talks between the two delegations on Friday — as had been hoped — but rather Mr Brahimi would continue to shuttle between the two sides.

“I don’t think we’re ready for that yet. The gap is too big,” said Mr Al Maleh.

Mr Al Maleh, a longtime opponent of the Assad family’s rule who spent many years in Syrian prisons, said it was “not easy” to sit in the same room with regime officials at Wednesday’s opening of the peace conference.

“I looked at them and thought, are they really Syrians like me? How can they sit there and defend such a killer regime. How?” he asked.

At least 130,000 people have been killed in the fighting that began in March 2011 with a peaceful uprising against Mr Al Assad’s rule, according to activists who are the only ones still keeping count. The fighting in Syria has become a proxy war between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia, and taken on Cold War overtones with Russia and the United States backing opposite sides.

Associated Press