Middle East

Syria peace talks end on a positive note, says UN

UN's special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura held up a picture of the opposing sides meeting in the same room, at the start of the talks Image copyright AFP
Image caption The UN's special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, held up a picture of the opposing sides meeting in the same room, at the start of the talks

Syrian peace talks have ended on a more positive note than previous meetings, according to the UN envoy for Syria.

But the slow-moving discussions, which took place in Geneva and are the first in almost a year, still led to no major breakthroughs.

"The train is ready, it's in the station, it's warming up its engine. It just needs an accelerator," said the UN's Staffan de Mistura.

The Syrian government's delegation left without comment.

The proxy talks included a delegation representing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and three opposition groups, who only met at the opening ceremony.

Chief opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri said, "Although we are closing this round without clear results ... I can say this time was more positive.

"It was the first time we discussed in acceptable depth the future of Syria and the future of political transition in Syria," he continued.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Syrian city of Aleppo was regained by government forces at the end of 2016

Russian representatives met both sides behind the scenes, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr De Mistura said the UN-led talks had the support of key regional player Turkey, which supports the opposition, as well as Russia and Iran, who are Syrian allies.

He said, "[There are] people in Syria and outside who still believe there is a military option or a military solution. That is fantasy."

The parties have agreed to return to the negotiating table later in March to discuss four key issues: governance, a draft constitution, elections and counter-terrorism.

Counter-terrorism was added to the agenda at the insistence of President al-Assad's delegation, according to the UN.

The Syrian government considers all rebels to be terrorists.

The UN recognises two groups as terrorists: the so-called Islamic State and the former Nusra Front, which was once an al-Qaeda affiliate. Neither is part of the UN peace process.

Another separate round of talks in Kazakhstan, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and dealing with military issues, is also expected to go ahead later this month.

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