UN Finalises Common Ground Document For Syria Talks

GENEVA: EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrived unexpectedly in Geneva on Wednesday, possibly highlighting concerns that talks on Syria risk getting deadlocked unless headway on the matter of political transition is made soon.

The UN Syria special envoy is finalising a document for delegates at peace talks that will synthesise common points of convergence, but is likely to stay clear of the divisive issue of political transition, activists and diplomats said.

With a fragile truce in place in Syria, warring sides are more than a week into talks on ending the conflict, but government officials have rejected any discussion on a political transition or the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, who opposition leaders say must go as part of any such plan.

Mogherini met the head of the Syrian government delegation Bashar Ja’afari, a rare meeting with a senior Western official. She also held talks with chief coordinator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Riad Hijab.

Speaking before the negotiations adjourn on Thursday, Ja’afari said he had received a document from envoy Staffan de Mistura.

“We will respond to it at the beginning of the next round,” he said, declining to take any questions.

The five-year-old conflict between the government and insurgents has killed more than 250,000 people, allowed ISIS to take control of some eastern areas and caused the world’s worst refugee crisis.

The UN envoy said on Tuesday that he aimed to establish if there were any points held in common by the different parties. If successful, he would announce these on Thursday.

Randa Kassis, who heads up a Moscow-backed opposition group, said de Mistura would distribute a document of common points gathered from the various delegates.

Points included creating a future unified Syrian army to fight terrorism or ensuring a democratic and non-sectarian based Syria.

“I don’t think much has happened in this round,” Kassis told Reuters.

“We’re waiting for a US-Russian accord to solve the (key) issue once and for all. Until they resolve it this process will drag on.”

Jihad Makdissi, head of the Cairo opposition group, confirmed he was also expecting de Mistura to issue a paper on a potential “common vision” for Syria that he believed was on the right path.

“It covers many points important to the Riyadh platform, the Cairo platform, and the Moscow platforms,” he said, referring to the different opposition groups.

A Western diplomat said he believed de Mistura’s new document was an attempt to synthesise views he had heard from his various interlocutors during the round of talks.

The cessation of hostilities deal, engineered by Washington and Moscow three weeks ago, but not signed by any of the warring parties, remains fragile.

Asaad al-Zoubi, head of the HNC’s delegation, said on Tuesday it was “obvious” there were no points of convergence with the Syrian government and accused it of renewing sieges and barrel bombing campaigns against civilians.

Mogherini, who has never previously visibly been involved in the talks, was also set to meet UN envoy de Mistura, but her visit coincides with high-level meetings in Moscow between Russian and US officials.

They aim to give fresh impetus to the talks and assess how Russia envisages a political transition in Syria, in particular the fate of Assad.