Syria peace talks hit snag
Impasse over power transfer29 January 2014 BBC Online
Syrian peace talks have resume in Geneva, after the warring sides hit an impasse over the formation of a transitional administration. Government and opposition delegates are holding a joint session with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the morning and will later hold separate talks with him.
On Monday, Brahimi admitted the negotiations "haven't produced much". He also said there was no breakthrough in attempts to arrange aid deliveries to besieged parts of the city of Homs.
The government has instead offered to allow women and children to leave opposition-held areas, and to grant safe passage to men as well if they receive a list of their names.
But the opposition has dismissed it as a ruse to displace and arrest its supporters.
Western diplomats have said that if aid is not allowed in by next week they will
draft a resolution at the UN Security Council to put pressure on the government and its ally Russia. Some 2,500 people have been trapped in the Old City of Homs since June 2012, without access to food and medical supplies.
On Tuesday, the governor of Homs province said a UN official was in contact with rebel fighters in besieged parts of the city to try to get civilians evacuated, while the UN's World Food Programme said it was ready to deliver a month of rations once it got clearance from both sides.
The third day of face-to-face meetings in Switzerland was said to have broken up after the government's representatives set out a "declaration of basic principles" that did not mention a political transition as demanded by the 2012 Geneva Communique, the basis of the negotiations. Government spokeswoman Buthaina Shaaban said the principles included protecting Syria's sovereignty, preserving state institutions and stopping the threat from "terrorist" groups, the designation officials routinely use to describe Assad's opponents. UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says both sides must "respect the confidentially of the discussions"
"We were surprised that this basic paper was rejected by the other side," Ms Shaaban said.
Murhaf Jouejati, a member of the opposition National Coalition, said the discussions had ended on a "sour note" after the government delegation became confrontational.
"We thought there was no point in continuing this since it was going to be a dialogue of the deaf," he told the Associated Press news agency.
The National Coalition insists the government must agree to the full implementation of the Geneva Communique, which it says means Assad will have no role to play in Syria's future. The document says the transitional governing body must have full executive powers and be formed "on the basis of mutual consent", and the coalition insists there is no chance that it will allow the president or his closest allies to join a unity cabinet. The government says its delegation will not "hand over power to anyone" and Assad recently said he might stand for re-election later this year.
Brahimi told reporters after Monday's talks that he had never expected miracles and that he would seek to identify some less-contentious issues in the hope of achieving some progress. "Tomorrow we are going to put forward the Geneva Communique," he said. "Then we are going to decide with them how we are going to proceed in discussing its many elements."
"We are doing what the situation allows, what the market can bear," he added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US, who organised the negotiations along with the UN and Russia, was "realistic about how difficult this is going to be, but we are completely convinced that this is the only way forward". Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile called for progress on aid, besieged areas and prisoner exchanges.
Fighting between government and rebel forces is meanwhile raging on in Syria, with activists saying about 100 people are being killed each day.
More than 100,000 people have died and another 9.5 million have been displaced since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.