Ban Ki-moon urges co-operation at Syrian peace talks in Geneva

UN secretary general says consequences for talks’ failure ‘too frightening to contemplate’

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon marked the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, which has left 250,000 dead and displaced half the country's 23 million people, by calling for its end. He urged the warring Syrian parties, regional and international stakeholders, and the Security Council to ensure the success of the intra-Syrian talks taking place in Geneva.

“If we miss this opportunity, the consequences for the Syrian people and the world are too frightening to contemplate,” he said.

UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura praised the decision of Russia, a key stakeholder, to begin withdrawing warplanes and troops from Syria in the hope that this would improve the chances of success in the fragile peace process.

"The announcement by President Putin on the very day of the beginning of this round . . . is a significant development,which we hope will have a positive impact on the progress of the negotiations in Geneva aimed at achieving a political solution of the Syrian conflict and a peaceful political transition in the country," Mr de Mistura said.


Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesman Salim al-Muslat adopted a tentative line, neither dismissing nor celebrating the Russian declaration. “We want to see action on the ground in Syria. It is important to see the pull-out of all foreign troops and an end to terrorism,” he said.

HNC representatives met on Tuesday with Mr de Mistura for procedural discussions. The HNC delegation included team chief Asaad Zoubi, a Free Army general; negotiator Mohammed Alloush, politburo member of the Saudi-sponsored Army of Islam; as well as Mr Muslat.

‘Proximity talks’

Once the initial “proximity talks” phase progresses, Mr de Mistura is expected to call for a shift to face-to-face discussions. Mr Muslat has said the HNC is not against such talks but government delegation head Bashar al-Jaafari has rejected Mr Alloush as an interlocutor because the Army of Islam is regarded as a terrorist group by


. His appointment to a top job is in itself seen as a provocation by Damascus.

On Wednesday Mr de Mistura will be meeting with the government delegation for substantive talks on a transitional authority that will draft a new constitution and oversee elections. He will meet the opposition to launch these discussions on Thursday.

Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council, Paulo de Pinheiro, head of the investigation team reporting on the situation in Syria, said preparations for prosecutions of war criminals in Syria should not await "for a final peace agreement to be reached." As thousands continue to be detained, tortured, and die in custody, he called for a release of prisoners and the establishment of a mechanism to trace the missing.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times