UN envoy sets out framework for sputtering Syria talks

AFP , Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Several more rounds of Syrian peace talks will be needed to reach any accord, the UN envoy bidding to kickstart the sputtering process has told the rival sides, setting out three key discussion areas.

In a paper given to both sides, and seen by AFP Sunday, he said that by the end of the current session "we would have a deeper shared understanding of how we can proceed in future rounds" in discussing each area.

Syrian regime and opposition negotiators are in Geneva for a fourth round of UN-sponsored talks, but they have been overshadowed by deadly attacks on the ground.

The talks could last until March 5, a couple of days longer than originally scheduled, according to an opposition source. The first full day of talks was Friday.

On Saturday, suicide attacks in Syria's third city Homs killed dozens of people, leading the Damascus envoy to Geneva to demand that all opposition negotiators condemn the assault or be considered "accomplices of terrorism".

In the paper handed out in Geneva by UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, he identified the three "baskets" of issues to be discussed as governance, constitution and elections,

"I have asked you to be ready to engage in a continuous and inclusive process over the weeks and months ahead. If we are to succeed, we will need several rounds of talks, obviously," he wrote in an introduction.

So far there have been no face-to-face talks between the two sides, with the UN envoy meeting each delegation separately, as in the three previous rounds the last of which was in April 2016.

Nevertheless "I shall remain open throughout bilateral sessions during these initial talks to all possibilities for direct engagement and negotiations between the sides," de Mistura wrote.

He set out a series of "ground rules" for the talks, including to "respect the others who are present in these proceedings.

"No one has the right to question the legitimacy of others," he wrote.

He said he plans to spend an initial day bilaterally on each of the three main areas, followed by another day on each issue.

"It is clear that any progress on any basket is welcome. It is equally clear that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

"I would hope that by the end of this round we would have a deeper shared understanding of how we can proceed in future rounds in discussing each issue basket."

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