December 14, 2017 / 7:04 PM / in 7 months

U.N. calls Syria talks a 'big missed opportunity', seeks new ideas

GENEVA (Reuters) - A round of Syria peace talks that ended on Thursday was a big missed opportunity but there may be more talks next month if ideas can be found to encourage President Bashar al-Assad’s government to engage, U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attends a round of negotiations with the delegation of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) during the Intra Syria talks, at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Xu Jinquan/Pool

He said neither side had actually “sabotaged” the latest talks by refusing to attend, but he laid most of the blame for the failure of the round at the feet of the government side.

De Mistura voiced milder disappointment with the Syrian opposition, after they arrived in Geneva ruling out any future role for Assad. But he said that tough public stance had been tempered by a mature position in the closed-door discussions.

“The goal we had was to bring about real negotiations,” de Mistura told a news conference. “Let me be frank. We did not achieve, we did not achieve these negotiations. In other words, negotiations in reality did not take place.

“I would conclude by saying (it was) a big missed opportunity. A golden opportunity at the end of this year when in fact there is a clear indication by many sides that the military operations are coming to a close,” he added.

De Mistura said he was leaving Geneva for consultations in New York with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, followed by a meeting with the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

“I will probably need to come up with new ideas, parameters, about how to move the talks forward, particularly on constitution and elections,” he said, adding that plans for a new round of Geneva talks in January depended on their outcome.

Syrian ambassador to the United Nations and head of the government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari and a member of his delegation prepare notes prior to the start of a meeting with the UN Special Envoy for Syria during Intra Syria peace talks at the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland December 14, 2017. REUTERS/ Fabrice Coffrini/Pool

Civil war has ravaged Syria for more than six years.

CHARADE

Chief opposition negotiator Nasr Hariri said the international community needed to do more to persuade government negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari to come to the table, warning that the talks were in “great danger”.

“The international community needs to find a new approach, otherwise this stalemate will continue and unfortunately it will be at the expense of Syrians,” he said.

General view of the meeting between the Syrian government delegation and the UN Special Envoy for Syria during Intra Syria peace talks, at the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland December 14, 2017. REUTERS/ Fabrice Coffrini/Pool

One European diplomat said the talks had been a “charade” because of the government’s behavior.

“Although the regime has presented itself here, that is all that it has done. I would go further: it’s not just a kind of disengagement that they’ve shown, it’s an extraordinary contempt,” he said.

“I understand that a large amount of their time here was spent negotiating personal admin matters and expenses, rather than the substance of the talks.”

As he left the talks, Ja’afari accused the opposition, backed by Western countries and Saudi Arabia, of sabotaging the round.

Ja’afari said Damascus did not want the talks to fail but the opposition had put down a precondition last month by concluding a conference known as “Riyadh 2” with a declaration that Assad had no role in Syria’s political transition.

De Mistura said the Damascus government had wanted him to insist that the opposition withdraw the statement.

“That was not possible or a logical approach because to me it sounded like a precondition. The government engaged me with only on (discussions about) terrorism. The truth is there is not one single subject they accepted except that one.”

Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and James Dalgleish

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