By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – December 1, 2017 – UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has pursued indirect talks between the Assad regime and Syria’s opposition in the third day of discussions in Geneva. De Mistura moved between the regime and opposition delegations for several hours on Thursday. The two sides were never in the same room, let alone speaking to one another, and the heads of the groups — the regime’s UN ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari and Nasr al-Hariri of the High Negotiations Committee — left without comments to reporters.
One “Western diplomat” tried to maintain optimism, saying that there will be “fireworks” if the two sides are at the same table, but that countries backing the talks — including Russia and the US — will then release pressure by forcing the delegations into productive discussions. Formally the talks are over elections, governance, a new constitution, and “fighting terrorism”. However, they have been convened with what may be an irreconcilable division over the future of Bashar al-Assad.
While the reformed High Negotiations Committee includes factions favored by Assad ally’s Russia, it has reasserted that the Syrian ruler must step aside in a political transition. The regime delayed the arrival of its delegation by 24 hours in protest, until Russia assured that Assad’s position would not be on any agenda.
A “European diplomat” said that, while he expected the opposition to be “pragmatic and flexible”, there was little chance of a significant advance: I think we need baby steps, and we’ve made such little progress in the years gone by, largely because of the regime’s reluctance to engage in this, so to make some small steps now and develop some momentum would be very helpful indeed. www.mesop.de