The talks in Geneva aimed to launch political negotiations on
ending Syria's nearly three-year conflict, which has killed 130,000
people, displaced over third of Syria's 22 million population and
destabilized the wider region.
"The first session has ended — Brahimi spoke for 30 minutes and none
of the delegates said anything," opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah
told reporters after the meeting.
The two sides entered and left the room through separate doors,
Abdah added, and were due to meet again at 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) for
discussions on humanitarian matters.
He said Brahimi told them the first two days of the talks would
focus on negotiations to lift sieges of civilians including in the
central city of Homs, as well as local ceasefires and humanitarian
access, but the core of the negotiations should be about resolving
"He (Brahimi) told us this is a political conference ... based on
Geneva 1," Abdah said, referring to a June 2012 communique which
called for the establishment of a transitional governing body — a
goal the Damascus government rejects.
The peace conference almost collapsed on Friday, the day
face-to-face talks were meant to start, and was only saved after
U.N. mediator Brahimi persuaded the two sides to focus on smaller
issues on which agreement might emerge.
"We do expect some bumps on the road," Brahimi told a news
conference on Friday after separate meetings with the parties.
With international divisions over how to end the conflict putting an
overall political solution out of reach for now, the two sides will
focus on small, confidence-building steps with no certainty
negotiations will even last the week.
"Both parties will be here tomorrow...they will not leave on
Saturday or Sunday," Brahimi said.
One diplomatic source, noting the caustic verbal attacks that marked
the opening of the conference in the Swiss city of Montreux on
Wednesday, said on Friday he had become cautious.
"Compared to 10 days ago, we've had Montreux with both delegations,
this start in Geneva with an extra day's delay, tomorrow 30 minutes
with the two delegations and then maybe a subject they can agree on.
Small steps, but small steps are better than no steps."
"It's clear there will be hysterical episodes each day."
VAST GAP OVER VERY BASIS FOR TALKS
Humanitarian access for Homs, where rebels are surrounded in central
districts by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, could be
"The practical aspects have been worked on. Things are ready and if
the government doesn't put a block on it then it could happen
quickly," a diplomatic source said.
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But profound mutual mistrust and the absence from Geneva of powerful
Islamist opposition groups as well as Assad's ally Iran make any
substantial progress very difficult.
The opposition said early on Friday it would not meet the government
side unless it first agreed to publicly endorse a 2012 statement by
world powers calling for a transitional government in Syria.
The government rejected the demand and said its negotiators would
leave Geneva unless serious talks began within a day.
After talking to both sides, Brahimi indicated on Friday afternoon
that their argument, which centres on whether Assad would have to
step down, had been put to one side.
Diplomats played down hopes of progress. "Expectations are so low
we'll see how things develop day by day," one said.
Brahimi had already indicated that his aim was to start by seeking
practical steps, such as local ceasefires, prisoner releases and
access for international aid deliveries, before embarking on the
tougher political negotiations.
"I think an immediate political solution is unrealistic,
unfortunately," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France
Syria's civil war has made half of the population dependent on aid,
including hundreds of thousands cut off by fighting.
Among the obstacles to progress, the Islamist militants who control
most rebel-held territory are boycotting the talks and say that
anyone attending negotiations that fail to bring down Assad would be
(Additional reporting by John Irish, Samia Nakhoul, Dominic Evans,
Tom Miles, Stephanie Nebehay, Alexandria Sage, Kinda Makiyeh,
Vincent Fribault and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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