UN mediator has talks with US and Russia over Syrian deadlock

Moscow and western powers disagree on resolution over access to besieged areas

US under secretary of state Wendy Sherman and UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrive for al meeting with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov in Geneva yesterday.  Photograph: Valentin Flauraud/Reuters

US under secretary of state Wendy Sherman and UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrive for al meeting with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov in Geneva yesterday. Photograph: Valentin Flauraud/Reuters

Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 01:00



UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday met officials from the US and Russia, sponsors of the Syrian peace process, with the aim of ending the deadlock in talks between government and opposition delegations.

Following two hours of discussions in Geneva with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov and US under secretary of state Wendy Sherman, Mr Brahimi said they had “reaffirmed their support for what we are trying to do and will try to help unblock” the talks. Syrian government and opposition delegates have been holding a second round of peace talks in Geneva since Monday, but little progress has been made. Mr Brahimi said the fact that the Geneva communique was only now being discussed was “a measure of the difficulties we face”.


Settlement
The UN-backed communique, drawn up in June 2012, is intended to be the basis for a settlement on Syria. It includes provision for the establishment of a transitional governing body, the start of a national dialogue, a review of the constitution and legal system and the holding of free and fair elections.

Western diplomats and the Syrian opposition delegates say President Bashar al-Assad’s government has refused to discuss the proposal for a transition of power and they want Russia to press it to do so.

In a separate development, Russia and western powers sparred over a UN Security Council resolution on humanitarian access to besieged areas.

Commenting on the dispute, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said a western- and Gulf-backed draft had been “prepared in the form of an ultimatum” and contained threats of sanctions, which Russia rejected. He said Moscow has presented its own text laying down “our vision of the role the [council] can play if we want to foster a solution . . . and not antagonise one side or the other.” Negotiations were taking place to merge the two texts.

José Luís Dias, head of Amnesty International’s UN office, said the security council must not fail the 250,000 Syrians living under siege by failing to adopt a resolution calling for full humanitarian access. “The situation for civilians trapped and under siege in a number of locations . . . is truly dire, with vital food and medical supplies in short supply or completely lacking.” The diplomatic manoeuvres took place as plans were made for the further evacuation of residents of the besieged insurgent-held old city of Homs.

Evacuation of civilians
Governor of Homs Talal al-Barazi said the delivery of food and medical supplies and the evacuation of civilians were suspended but would resume today and would continue until all who wanted to leave the old city had departed. It is estimated that 1,000 of the civilians remaining want to leave. Since Friday, 1,417 people have been evacuated and 6.2 tonnes of flour and 500 food parcels distributed.

Before the rescue began there had been 2,500-3,000 civilians in the old city of Homs, as well as 700 fighters. The regime has been criticised for holding 220 of the men evacuated this week, but Mr Barazi said they would be released.