Syrian Govt, Rebels Agree on Agenda for Future Peace Talks

Miranda GreerMar 05, 2017

In his first remarks following the latest round of UN-led Syria peace talks in the Swiss city of Geneva, Bashar al-Ja'afari told reporters on Saturday that Damascus sought a unified Syrian opposition in the negotiations, "not a Saudi partner nor a Qatari, Turkish or French partner".

The latest round of intra-Syrian peace talks wrapped up on Friday, with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura commending the progress made since negotiations kicked off last week.

The parties have agreed to return to the negotiating table later in March to discuss four key issues: governance, a draft constitution, elections and counter-terrorism. Western diplomats said they understand that the United Nations represents their best shot at a political transition, however slowly the process proceeds.

The two sides only convened for the opening ceremony though, with the rest of the negotiations conducted through De Mistura, who talked to the government and opposition in separate sessions.

This round of the UN-brokered negotiations - the first since last April - came shortly after the conclusion of the second round of the Syria peace talks, facilitated by Russia, Turkey and Iran, in the Kazakh capital Astana on February 15 and 16.

"The train is ready, it is in the station", he said.

Mr De Mistura said the UN-led talks had the support of key regional player Turkey, which supports the opposition, as well as Russian Federation and Iran, who are Syrian allies.

Government representatives, meanwhile, have accused the opposition of taking the talks "hostage", accusing the rebels of including members of "armed terrorist groups".

"De Mistura's mistake was that he did not join several opposition groups into one".

The Russian military says its officers have planned and directed the Syrian operation to recapture Palmyra.

Rudskoi said over 1,000 IS militants were killed in the fight for Palmyra.

Syria's military announced the previous night that its forces have fully recaptured Palmyra, the third time the town famed for its ancient Roman ruins has changed hands in one year.

De Mistura said the government delegation put forward a suggestion on exchanging prisoners and abducted people, which should be taken up in Astana.

The opposition has been hesitant to add "terrorism" to the agenda over fears that the government would use it to sideline discussions on political transition - the opposition's central goal.

Speaking at the end of that meeting, Jihad Makdissi, head of the opposition Cairo platform, said if procedural issues are overcome there may be another round of talks in March. He spoke on condition of anonymity Friday in line with regulations.

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