Syrian civil war foes meet for 1st time, focus on aid
Updated: 2014-01-26 09:48
UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi speaks during a news conference at the UN headquarter in Geneva January 24, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]
GENEVA - Syria's civil war foes held their first face-to-face meetings on Saturday, launching talks aimed at ending nearly three years of conflict which has killed 130,000 people and destabilised the wider Middle East.
Government and opposition delegates faced each other across a negotiating table at the United Nations headquarters for a total of three hours in the presence of mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who described the meetings as "a good beginning".
While political differences which Brahimi says must form the core of their talks appear insurmountable for now, the two sides focused on Saturday on a possible humanitarian deal aimed at building confidence in the negotiating process.
Brahimi said he hoped that authorities in Syria would approve access on Sunday for an aid convoy to reach the rebel-held centre of Homs, allowing it to be delivered on Monday.
"We haven't achieved much, but we are continuing," he told a news conference after the talks concluded for the day.
Anxious to avoid any possible confrontations, organisers ensured the two parties entered and left the negotiation room for the morning and afternoon sessions through separate doors.
Brahimi said they faced each other during the meeting but addressed their remarks through him. "This is what happens in civilised discussions, you talk to the president or the speaker or the chairman," he said.
The veteran international mediator also said he set out his plans for the talks over the coming weeks, stressing that they must ultimately be focused on implementing a June 2012 declaration which called for a transitional governing body to be set up with the consent of Syria's opposing forces.
"He told us this is a political conference ... based on Geneva 1," opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah said, referring to the 2012 communique announced by world powers in the same Swiss city where Saturday's talks took place.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government delegation said it broadly accepted Geneva 1, but reiterated its longstanding opposition to the idea of a transitional body, saying it was inappropriate and unnecessary.
"We have complete reservations regarding it," Information Minister Omran Zoabi said, comparing the proposal to the transitional government set up in Iraq by U.S. occupation forces after they toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
"Syria is a state with institutions," he added. "A transitional governing body ... happens where the state is in disintegration, or has no institutions."
The opposition has insisted that the government delegation accept the principle of setting up the transitional body, saying it must bring an end to Assad's rule. The president says only Syrian voters can choose their ruler and that he may well stand again in an election due to be held by June this year.