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UN regrets ‘missed opportunity’ as Syrian peace talks fail to move ahead

The UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has said the eighth round of the Intra-Syrian peace talks ended in Geneva without any “real negotiations”.

The UN official is expected to leave Geneva to consult in New York with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on further steps, where he will also meet with the UN Security Council next week.

He told a press conference on Thursday after announcing the end of the new round of the UN-led Geneva peace talks on Syria that the last two weeks of talks had not yielded the intended results despite great efforts, which he described as a “missed golden opportunity”, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Though a lot of efforts by my whole team have been made, day and night, with all sorts of creative formulas, we only have bilateral discussions with both parties, we did not have real negotiations,” de Mistura said.

The UN envoy said that both the government side and the opposition group had accused each other of setting preconditions, but there had been none in Geneva before the talks proceeded.

“I really hoped the diplomacy, not only ours, will help the government and the opposition to actually do what is expected and what was expected,” he emphasized.

He said during the last two weeks, he had seven meetings with the government and 11 with the opposition.

“The opposition in particular engaged with us on all four baskets — governance, constitutional process, elections and countering terrorism. They also gave me some concrete ideas on the so called 12 essential principles. The government engaged with me only on terrorism,” he said.

“We did not see the government looking to have a dialogue in this round, I have to say, regrettably, I did see the opposition trying to,” said the UN envoy, adding that “there is no alternative but to have the legitimacy of the UN”.

He said as well as reporting back to the UN Security Council in New York, he would also seek advice from special ambassadors of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council who he has been consulting.

“I will probably need to come up with new ideas, parameters, about how to move the talks forward, particularly on constitution and elections,” de Mistura said.

“We are not going to give up at the moment,” he said when “the Syrian people believe there should be some process without precondition,” he told the reporters, stressing that there is clearly a desperate need for “a real political process”.

Saying that the two weeks were not wasted, the UN official told reporters that during this round of talks he had the opportunity of hearing many Syrian voices, from the civil society, the Syrian Women Advisory Board, and Syrian refugees.

Earlier in the day after the meeting with de Mistura, the head of the Syrian government delegation to the Syrian peace talks Bashar al-Ja’afari said his team would not talk to the opposition delegation due to a statement it released before the current talks began, known as “the Riyadh communique”.

After a meeting with de Mistura in Geneva, al-Ja’afari told reporters that Syria did not want the talks to fail, but the opposition had come with “a precondition” it set in November at a conference known as “Riyadh 2”.

The new round of UN-led Syrian peace talks started on November 28 and was originally scheduled to be held until December 15. The major obstacle for any expected breakthrough was described by the UN as a lack of trust.

In parallel with the UN-backed Geneva process, a new round of the Russia-led international negotiations on the settlement of the Syrian conflict is scheduled for December 21-22 in the Kazakh capital of Astana.