Syria: Has Geneva talks ended with clear agenda as de Mistura said?

Syria: Geneva talks

The fourth round of the UN-led Syria peace talks in Geneva ended with a clear agenda for reaching a political solution to the six-year crisis, according to the UN envoy for Syria, while the opposition said there were no clear results but this round was more positive.

The new round of Syria peace talks has started in Geneva on February 23. after it was previously planned to be on February 8. but delayed in order to take advantage of the results of Astana settlement about the ceasefire in Syria, which was planned by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, addressed the both delegations asking them to work together to help in ending the crisis in the country.

De Mistura told the representatives of both delegations that they had a joint responsibility to end a conflict that had killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

The discussions were almost stalled as both parts insisted on their own goals before the talks and accused each other of trying to hinder talks.

The opposition’s delegation accused the regime delegation of seeking to hinder the peace talks as its head said the main goal of the talks should be combating terrorism without mentioning the political process, while regime forces in Syria kept breaching the ongoing shaky truce and killed dozens of civilians since the talks started.

However, both sides could point to small victories. The opposition said that the question of political transition was seriously addressed for the first time, while U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said counter-terrorism – an issue pushed by Assad regime’s delegation – had been added to the agenda.

A final agenda for future process

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, announced on Friday the conclusion of the intra-Syrian talks in the Swiss city having secured a finalized agenda for another round.

He said he would invite the government and opposition negotiators to Geneva for a fifth set of discussions later in March.

“We have a clear agenda in front of us,” de Mistura told reporters. “The train is ready, it is in the station … it is warming up its engine … it just needs an accelerator and the accelerator is in the hands of those in this round.”

“It is now clear to everyone [that] we are here to implement Security Council resolution 2254, and that is beyond dispute,” de Mistura said.

Resolution 2254, adopted by the council in 2015, lays the foundations for a political transition – the opposition’s central goal – based on three subjects, or “baskets”: accountable governance, a new constitution and UN-supervised elections within 18 months.

But before signing on to continue negotiations, government representatives demanded that a fourth subject focused entirely on “anti-terrorism” was added to the agenda.

The opposition has previously been hesitant to add “terrorism” to the agenda over fears that the government would use it to sideline discussions on political transition.

“The agenda is reflected by the baskets,” said de Mistura. “Four baskets – three plus one.”

Assad’s chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari left the talks without speaking to reporters. “He has terrorism, but has to engage on transition,” one Western diplomat said.

Terrorism has been a mantra for the Syrian government, which regards all the rebels as terrorists, and described members of the negotiating delegation on Thursday as terrorists backed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

De Mistura said the United Nations recognized only two terrorist groups: Islamic State and the former Nusra front, once an al Qaeda affiliate. Neither is part of the U.N. peace process.

Maintaining the ceasefire

The additional subject, said de Mistura, “addresses within the context of the overall transitional political process, issues related to strategies of counterterrorism, security governance and also medium-term confidence building measures”.

The first three subjects were given an implementation target date of six months, while the fourth was linked with separate Russian-led talks in Kazakhstan’s Astana, expected to take place on March 14.

Those talks, backed also by Turkey and Iran, would be in addition to the Geneva process and deal with the “maintenance of the ceasefire, immediate confidence-building measures and operational counterterrorism issues”, de Mistura said.

De Mistura said consolidation and maintenance of the ceasefire were vital to the Geneva process, while talks in Astana would be reinforcing.

“We are very much complementary. If Astana succeeds, it means ceasefire,” he said. “If a ceasefire takes place, we can have productive talks. If we don’t have productive talks, a ceasefire can’t last.”

A successful truce, he said, would also “facilitate” nationwide humanitarian access and a prisoner exchange – another key opposition demand.

No clear results, but positive talks

“Although we are closing this round without clear results … I can say this time was more positive,” chief opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri said.

“It was the first time we discussed in acceptable depth the future of Syria and the future of political transition in Syria.

“We discussed with de Mistura important issues in Resolution 2254 and we reached acceptable agreement to start a preliminary framework. We will continue our communication with de Mistura between the rounds,” Hariri said when asked whether the format of the talks has been defined.

The main goal of the Syrian opposition in the talks was to achieve political solution and create an interim government, as “the political transition will open the doors for stable Syria and it is key to solve terrorism in Syria.”

Nasr Hariri said that the HNC has certain remarks on the ideas of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on the future of the country laid down in a non-paper that he gave to the delegations for consideration.

“De Mistura gave us a non-paper, they are general provisions on the future of Syria… We have some additional remarks, which we will present to de Mistura, just to enrich this paper,” Hariri told reporters after meeting with de Mistura.

Earlier in the day, de Mistura explained his vision of the future of Syria in a non-paper of 12 points, which he handed over to the delegations.

Moreover, Hariri stated that the HNC sees the United Nations as the key platform for the Syrian reconciliation process despite the organization’s “shortcomings.”

“Despite the international silence on the shortcomings of the United Nations, it is the only platform that we come to, and international resolutions are the only terms of reference for us,” Hariri said.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.