Frosty start to latest round of Geneva talks on Syria

Staffan de Mistura presides over the latest round of Geneva talks, 24 February 2017, (c) Reuters

The second day of talks on the Syrian crisis began in Geneva on Friday with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura handing papers focused on procedural issues to both sides of the conflict – however reports suggest there is little chance of government and opposition delegations meeting directly.

According to Reuters, “tensions were palpable among participants at (Friday’s) opening ceremony,” when the warring sides came face-to-face for the first after three years.

“I ask you to work together. I know it’s not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified,” de Mistura told the two delegations, who sat on opposite sides of the stage.

The main obstacle to discussions has been the disparity between the sides on what the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be. The Syrian Opposition has prioritised the removal of Assad from power as a pre-condition for a political transition, while the Damascus government has rejected bringing this to the table.

It is expected that political discussions will become prioritised as the fight to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria reaches its last phases. Commentators have said the lack of a political settlement – that includes all the groups in Syria – post-IS could lead to an escalation of war directly between the government’s in the region; primarily Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

The six year war in Syria has lead to the death of more than 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced at least half of the country’s 24 million population. The destabilisation of the country has also spread to the region with dozens of attacks in Iraq and Turkey.

The latest round of meetings is expected to last until early March.