Damascus blamed for deadlock in Syrian peace talks

Britain and France criticise lack of progress on ceasefire

Free Syrian Army fighters throw stones towards forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria, on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Free Syrian Army fighters throw stones towards forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria, on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 01:00

Britain and France have blamed Damascus for the deadlock in the Syrian peace talks after the second round ended with no progress as the Homs evacuation, the sole success of the Geneva negotiations, remains suspended by the UN because armed groups reportedly prevented civilians from reaching transit points.

“The responsibility . . . lies squarely with the Assad regime,” said British foreign secretary William Hague, while his French counterpart Laurent Fabius said the government had “blocked any progress”.

In response Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem accused the US, which supports the opposition, of creating a “negative climate for dialogue” in Geneva.

Following a brief joint meeting with government and opposition delegations, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi apologised to the Syrian people for the impasse.

An agenda for a third round has been agreed by the parties but the “manner in which [the issues] be addressed has not been agreed”.

Mr Brahimi proposed that one day would be devoted to terrorism and the next to the transitional body followed by discussions on the basis of progress.

The government rejected this idea. Negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari argued, “we cannot move from . . . item one to item two . . . without fully considering [item one] and concluding with a common vision of this item”.

‘Waste of time’
Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said the government refuses to discuss a transitional government excluding president Bashar al-Assad and warned that a third round “without talking about transition would be a waste of time”.

Mr Brahimi said Damascus’s stand “raises the suspicion of the opposition that the government does not want to discuss [the transitional body] at all”.

He plans to travel to New York to report to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and consult with US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

US president Barack Obama has vowed to “apply more pressure to the Assad regime”.

In Syria, Homs governor Talal Barazi said every effort would be made to complete the evacuation in concert with the UN. He announced 179 male evacuees of military age from the old city of Homs would receive four days of religious instruction “to modify their incorrect [radical] interpretation of Islam” as well as rehabilitation counselling. He said 211 men of fighting age had been released of the 390 who left the old city.

In Lebanon, after 11 months of stalemate, prime minister Tammam Salam has formed a 24-member cabinet of “national interest”, appointing eight veteran politicians from each of the rival Sunni- and Shia-led blocs as well as eight centrists.