The first round of the Syrian peace talks ended unsuccessfully Friday for both sides as the major participants threw accusations at each other and traded insults. The results may also imperil the scheduled second round on February 10, also in Geneva, as representatives of the Syrian government failed to give its commitment to attend the next peace talks.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the opposition of being immature while Louay Safi, a representative of the opposition, said the government had no real intention to stop the violence and killings in Syria. This came after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime failed to surrender its stockpile of chemical weapons at a specified time to U.N. authorities.
These two developments became the major stumbling blocks as the international community attempts to stop the nearly three-year-old Syrian civil war, which has already claimed 100,000 lives, as well as force Syria to surrender its chemical weapons that were utilized by the government in the conflict against its own people.
The non-surrender of the chemical weapons on time forced U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a warning that all options will be enforced, including a military one just to make sure Syria complies. Kerry said that al-Assad “needs to understand that he agreed to an international U.N. Security Council Resolution which has reinforced a requirement that he remove all of those weapons and that he do so in a specific period of time.”
According to U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, there is no use pretending that the talks did go well and both sides were satisfied, but “nevertheless, during our discussions I observed a little bit of common ground – perhaps more than the two sides themselves realize or recognize.”
The opposition demands that al-Assad step down and that he cannot be part of any plans for a future transitional government. This position is being backed by the United States, which is part of the Geneva I communique of June 2012. The Syrian government, however, accuses the opposition of aligning itself with the terrorist al Qaeda-backed groups. Thus, the Syrian government said it is fighting terrorism in its country. Muallem said of the opposition, “There is no moderate opposition; there is only terrorist organizations.”
But all is not lost with regard to the first round of peace talks, as both sides discussed humanitarian issues and made some agreements on the need to establish ceasefires so that humanitarian workers can do their jobs. Valerie Amos, the U.N. aid chief, said that the deals had allowed some aid to reach a few thousand families. But relief aids still cannot reach the besieged city of Homs, located 162 kilometers north of Damascus. Amos made clear that while participants of this peace talk try to find a political solution to the crisis, people across Syria are already dying from hunger and need immediate medical help. Amos added that the Syrian government is the one to blame because they are obstructing the relief efforts of the U.N. teams in reaching the affected areas.
Aside from the 100,000 people killed because of the civil war, there were also an estimated six million people displaced from their homes and became refugees because of the conflict.
U.S. President Barack Obama last year threatened to launch a military strike against the government of al-Assad in the wake of reports that the government used chemical weapons to attack its own people. This military move, however, failed to get the support of the U.S. Congress and from Great Britain, its key ally.
The first round of the Syrian peace talks may be considered a failure in some aspects as participants traded insults and accusations. But diplomats who are working to broker the peace talks said that hardline positions can eventually be modified over time.
By Roberto I. Belda