Low expectations for new Syrian peace talks

Representatives from opposition groups and the government are meeting at United Nations headquarters in Geneva.


The talks come as Russia has asked the Syrian government to halt air strikes across the country.

After almost a year of stalling, negotiators have arrived in Geneva for another attempt at returning peace to Syria.

At the United Nations headquarters, the focus is on a political solution to the almost six-year-old war.

Opposition groups are desperate for a transition of power that would lead to President Bashar al-Assad stepping down.

The government, though, says that is up to the Syrian people to decide.

Neither side has been willing to budge on its position, which resulted in last year’s talks being suspended.

And this year, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, says he is keeping his expectations realistic.

“Am I expecting a breakthrough? No, I’m not expecting a breakthrough. But I’m expecting and determined for keeping a very proactive momentum. There is a rush between us and the spoilers. The spoilers want to keep a momentum. We have to outpace those few, but clear, spoilers with the momentum on the political track. And I think we can aim at that. So I’m not expecting an immediate breakthrough from this round of negotiation but the beginning of a series of rounds that should enable (us) to go much more in-depth on the substantive issues that are required for a political solution in Syria.”

The mediator has declined to discuss the precise format of the latest talks but says bilateral meetings were set as the starting point.

Syrian opposition spokesman Salem al-Muslet has also called for direct talks with the Syrian government.

He says the group is hoping for “a serious partner” in the talks but suggests the government is just “buying time,” trying to gain more time for its offensive.

Half a million people have been killed in the civil war, and 12 million have been displaced.

A nationwide ceasefire is currently in place, but it has been steadily falling apart since it started.

A separate set of negotiations in Kazakhstan, convened by Russia, Turkey and Iran, has been dealing with the ceasefire and other humanitarian issues.

Russia has been a strong and crucial supporter of the Syrian government.

But, in what has been dubbed a goodwill gesture, Staffan de Mistura says Russia has called on the government to halt its aerial bombings.

“Today, the Russian Federation, at the ceasefire taskforce, did announce to everyone, and every country present, and to myself, that they have formally requested the government of Syria to silence their own skies in the areas touched by the ceasefire during the intra-Syrian talks. We are being requesting those who have an influence on the opposition to try themselves also to do the same. They don’t have aeroplanes, but they can do something similar, in terms of reducing any type of provocation on any side to give a better chance to the intra-Syrian talks.”

Russia and the new United States administration have been meeting to discuss how to deal with the war.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says he discussed safety zones with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

“Concerning the proposal of creating safe zones, we talked on this topic during my meeting with Rex Tillerson in Bonn on the 16th of February within the ministerial meeting of G20. The American side has said that this concept is now being worked out, and we will await further clarifications.”

Sergei Lavrov says Russia is awaiting US suggestions on how best to cooperate in Syria.

“We have said what we are ready to talk about. And we are waiting for clarification from Washington. We are ready to review any other proposals on cooperation in Syria. And we hope that, as the president of the United States, Donald Trump, said and as the official representative of the White House said, the United States is interested in cooperation with us on a Syrian peace settlement.”