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Despite different takes on Geneva communique, Syrian delegations agree to meet

January 24, 2014 at 1:22 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  The United Nations’ lead envoy on Syria struggled today to hold talks together aimed at ending that country’s civil war. 

As Hari Sreenivasan reports, they may have reached a breakthrough.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Demonstrators from both sides of the Syrian conflict highlighted the diplomatic divisions, as the Assad regime and the opposition failed to meet face-to-face today. 

Then came this:

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. Envoy to Syria:  Tomorrow, we expect, we have agreed that we will meet in same room. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi made the announcement after hours of meeting separately with the delegations. 

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI:  The discussions I have had with the two parties were encouraging.  And we are looking forward to our meetings tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon.  As you know, the whole process is based on the Geneva communique of the 30th of June, 2012.  And I think the two sides understand that very well and accept it. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  That communique calls for a transitional government, and Brahimi acknowledged there are different interpretations of its provisions. 

Earlier, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition insisted President Bashar al-Assad accept those terms before any direct talks. 

Secretary-General Badr Jamous:

BADR JAMOUS, Secretary-General, Syrian National Council (through translator):  The negotiations will be indirect until the regime signs Geneva I.  We came to implement the agreement.  And if the regime will not abide by it, then direct contact will not be beneficial. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But the Syrian delegation gave no ground publicly.  Instead, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his delegation would leave tomorrow if serious talks didn’t begin. 

Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to ridding Syria of Assad. 

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  Absent a political solution, we know where this leads, more refugees, more terrorists, more extremism, more brutality from the regime, more suffering from the Syrian people. 

And we do not believe that we or anyone should tolerate one man’s brutal effort to cling to power. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  As the day ended, expectations for tomorrow’s talks in Geneva remained low, but, as one Western diplomat put it, “Every day that they talk is a little step forward.”