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Syria talks end without clear progress or assurance of an encore

January 31, 2014 at 6:22 PM EDT
Despite measured optimism for progress from the UN envoy, neither sides in the Syrian conflict have budged from their positions during nine days of peace talks in Switzerland, with the government delegation unwilling to commit to more talks. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Brown reports, the situation on the ground may only be getting worse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The long-awaited Geneva II Syria peace talks ended today without any semblance of an agreement.

And, as Jeffrey Brown reports, there’s uncertainty on whether there will be another round of discussions.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. Envoy to Syria: This is a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build.

JEFFREY BROWN: U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi summed up the nine days of contentious talks, saying, in effect, progress needs to be measured in small steps.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: It was a very difficult start. But the sides have become used to sitting in the same room. They have presented positions and listened to one another. There have been moments when one side has even acknowledged the concerns and the difficulties and the point of view of the other side.

JEFFREY BROWN: Brahimi lamented that the two sides failed to agree on lifting the siege of Homs, where civilians are trapped, with no access to food or medicine. There was also no movement on creating a transitional government. The Syrian foreign minister rejected it out of hand and complained the opposition won’t face facts.

WALID AL-MOALLEM, Syrian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): I regret to tell you that we have not reached tangible results during this week because of the lack of maturity and seriousness on the other side and the threat to implode the conference, as if we have come here to meet for one hour to hand over everything to them and then to go back. It’s indicative of the illusions that they are living in.

JEFFREY BROWN: The minister didn’t say if his government will come back for a second round of talks scheduled on February 10. But the Western-backed Syrian National Council insisted that Bashar al-Assad must negotiate the end of his regime.

AHMAD JARBA, President, Syrian National Council (through translator): I don’t think that there will be a kind of meeting of minds with this criminal regime. It’s very difficult. I think that this regime was forced to come to Geneva. Assad is trying to buy time because he knows the end is near.

JEFFREY BROWN: All of this as opposition activists reported that another 1,900 people have died in the civil war since the peace talks began. Amid the fighting came word that the U.S. resumed shipment of non-lethal aid and some light arms to moderate rebel factions.

At the same time, The New York Times reported groups linked to al-Qaida have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is said to be selling fuel back to the Assad government.

Meanwhile, the U.S. complained Assad is dragging his heels in shipping chemical agents abroad for destruction. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke today in Berlin.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We want the Syrian regime to live up to its obligations. And it is critical that, very rapidly, all of those chemical weapons be moved from once — from their 12 or so sites to the one site in the port and be prepared for shipment out of Syria altogether.

JEFFREY BROWN: Kerry meets this weekend with his Russian counterpart to discuss the chemical weapons issue and prospects for the now-recessed peace talks.