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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Syria talks were a 'golden opportunity missed', says UN envoy

Eighth round of Geneva negotiations failed to break deadlock over Syrian president Bashar Al Assad's future, with the opposition insisting he must go as part of any peace deal

Nasr Al Hariri (C), the head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, attends a round of negotiations with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (not pictured at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on December 14, 2017. Xu Jinquan / Pool / EPA
Nasr Al Hariri (C), the head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, attends a round of negotiations with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (not pictured at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on December 14, 2017. Xu Jinquan / Pool / EPA

The eighth round of United nations-brokered talks on Syria ended on Thursday with special envoy Staffan de Mistura forced to admit, " We did not have real negotiations."

Mr de Mistura acknowledged at a press conference that no real discussions took place between the government and the opposition's side — despite "all sorts of creative formulas" tried by his team.

He had hoped to get the two sides together rather than shuttling between their separate meeting rooms but the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad's delegation refused any face-to-face encounters with the opposition.

“I tried to convince the regime delegation to hold direct negotiation and without preconditions.”he said. But it was not to be, a failure he called , "regrettable".

But the opposition delegation had given him "concrete ideas" on all four "baskets" : political transition, counter-terrorism, the constitution and elections, whereas the government side had discussed only counter-terrorism.

Mr de Mistura said the peace talks were a "golden opportunity missed" as another round ends without progress. He confirmed that “everyone is in agreement that resolution 2254 on Syria should be implemented.”

Mr de Mistura will now present the results of 17 days of negotiation to the UN Security council on Tuesday.

The talks, which began on November 28, remain deadlocked on the issue of the future of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, with the opposition insisting he must go as part of any peace deal.

Mr de Mistura called on Russian president Vladimir Putin to "have the courage" to push the Syrian government to accept new elections and a new constitution and "convince them there is no time to lose." .

Russia has provided crucial military and diplomatic backing to Mr Al Assad's forces, including air and ground support for government forces, ostensibly to combat advances by what Moscow and Damascus term "terrorist" groups.

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"We can talk about having won the territorial war, which is temporary, but the peace also needs to be won and for that there needs to be the courage to push the government to accept new elections," he said, adding that such polls should be monitored by the UN.

Syrian government negotiator Bashar Al Jaafari said Damascus did not want the talks to fail, and had engaged seriously in discussions which concentrated on counter-terrorism, But the opposition had sabotaged the talks by introducing a precondition after a conference dubbed "Riyadh 2" last month which ended with a demand for Mr Al Assad to have no role in Syria's political transition.

"The Riyadh 2 Communique is blackmail of the Geneva process," Mr Al Jaafari said. "Those who drew up the Riyadh 2 statement were the ones who sabotaged this round. I mean by that the other side."

The opposition, however, blamed the government side for "procrastination." Spokesman Yayha Aridi said, "23 million Syrians will not accept obstruction in achieving peace in Syria."