Syrian foes meet in Geneva in presence of mediator

Official negotiations start Monday; "We know this would be a difficult and complicated process," says Brahimi.

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
NEW YORK – Representatives from the Syrian government and Syrian National Coalition met face-to-face for the first time on Saturday in Geneva.
It marked the beginning of what many have characterized as a long and difficult road to reconciliation in the three-year civil war.
The meeting took place after the conference nearly collapsed on Friday, the day face-to-face talks were meant to start.
“We do expect some bumps on the road,” UN joint special representative Lakhdar Brahimi said after separate meetings with the parties. “We know this would be a difficult and complicated process. Certainty is a very rare commodity,” Brahimi told reporters on Friday. He called the discussions “encouraging” and said he was looking forward to the continuation of the meetings on Sunday.
The talks on Saturday and Sunday are devoted to solving the humanitarian crisis affecting Syrians in the country and improving access for humanitarian workers, as well as negotiating for the release of prisoners of conscience being held by the government and the opposition.
Brahimi said much of the talks focused on the situation in Homs, but no final agreement was reached on Saturday.
He reiterated that the discussions would be largely aimed at implementing the provisions of the Geneva communiqué – that is, establishing a transitional government with full executive powers – despite conditions from the government side that such a body would be “inappropriate and unnecessary,” Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jafari told reporters.
“We have complete reservations regarding it,” Information Minister Omran Zoabi said, comparing the proposal to the transitional government set up in Iraq by US occupation forces after they toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“Syria is a state with institutions,” he said. “A transitional governing body... happens where the state is in disintegration, or has no institutions.”
But Brahimi insisted that both parties “understand well and accept” that the process is based on the communiqué.
Brahimi added that he hoped the five permanent members of the UN Security Council “will exercise their influence on all sides in Syria to get out of the ditch they are in and work with us.”
Syrian opposition spokesman Louay Safi addressed reporters directly after Brahimi, and said his side was preparing to begin official negotiations on Monday, including discussions of detained persons and national security. In response to a reporter’s questions as to why the talks on Saturday focused so narrowly on Homs, Safi said the discussions of the situation in Homs were a “test balloon, to see if the regime will be able to provide food to people who are starving.”
Reuters contributed to this report.