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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Envoy Struggling to Get Syria Talks On Track

by Luis Ramirez February 01, 2016

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura struggled on Monday to keep peace talks on track in Geneva, where Syrian government and opposition representatives are present but not yet fully involved in indirect negotiations.

U.N. officials said talks that had been scheduled between de Mistura and the Syrian government delegation for midday Monday were postponed.

A spokesman for the main opposition group said Monday he had received a "positive response" from de Mistura on their demands to halt air strikes and allow the flow of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas.

But the opposition said escalating violence could hinder the already fragile process.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, discussed the Syria talks with VOA on Monday, saying he thinks they are starting off in a difficult place.

'I think the opposition that, you know, we communicated some with last week has been put in a very awkward place. The humanitarian things that they had asked for have not occurred.'

He added 'I certainly support diplomatic talks as I think everyone would, but the elements at present do not feel that they are in a proper place"

Russian support

Syrian forces, with Russia's help, have stepped up attacks and on Monday launched an offensive north of the city of Aleppo.

The opposition says the government air strikes are killing civilians.

"You cannot ask the Syrian opposition to engage in any negotiation with the regime under this escalation," Farah Atassi, a member of the opposition, said in Geneva.

The U.N. envoy was scheduled to meet with the opposition later Monday.

Opposition boycott

The group boycotted the first day of talks on Friday and the only consultations held that day were between the U.N. envoy and the Syrian government delegation. Opposition representatives arrived in Geneva late Saturday after getting assurances from the U.N. and international supporters of the peace process that their demands would be addressed.

A member of the opposition delegation said those assurances had come from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The opposition group met with de Mistura for the first time on Sunday. Both the U.N. envoy and opposition officials said the discussions were positive.

Proposal under consideration

Opposition representatives say they do not know how long they will remain in Geneva. A western diplomatic source says the opposition is considering a proposal from de Mistura that could lead to their staying and participating in indirect negotiations with the Syrian government.

In a video statement on Sunday, Kerry urged all sides to press on to end to the conflict that has killed 250,000 people, and which he described as "an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe unmatched since World War II."

'I appeal to both sides to make the most of this moment, to seize the opportunity for serious negotiations, to negotiate in good faith with the goal of making concrete measurable progress in the days immediately ahead,'' Kerry said.

Senate correspondent Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

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