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Syrian government, opposition enter indirect but uncertain talks in Geneva

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met separately with representatives of the Syrian government and opposition Friday as both sides expressed doubts in the negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland to end Syria’s civil war.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem reportedly told Brahimi if “serious talks don’t begin Saturday, the official Syrian delegation will have to leave because the other party is not serious or ready,” according to Syrian state television.

Opposition representatives, meanwhile, said they would not meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s delegation unless it formally agreed to the first Geneva negotiated outcome calling for a transitional administration.

The crux of the problem is the two sides’ different approaches to the negotiations: The Syrian government has said it wants to talk about fighting terrorism, while the opposition has said it wants to negotiate a transition that will remove Assad from power.

The opening of the conference on Wednesday showed how entrenched both sides are in finding an end to the conflict that started in March 2011 and has left an estimated 130,000 dead.

The United States has long urged Assad to step down. “Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. “There is no way, no way possible in the imagination that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.”

The talks in Geneva are expected to continue on Saturday.

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