A week of fruitless negotiations between the Syrian regime and opposition has come to an end. It's unclear whether or not the talks will continue. But there's no question about who bears responsibility for the stalemate.
At the conclusion of the second round of the Syria peace talks in Geneva, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi sent the delegations home to think about the future of the stalled negotiations. The meetings between the representatives of the Assad regime and the opposition Syrian National Coalition had been "laborious," according to Brahimi.
"I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects, and takes their responsibility: Do they want this process to continue or not?" Brahimi said, seemingly exhausted.
Since the Geneva negotiations began at the end of January, the Syrian government has not budged a millimeter. During the first round of talks in early February, the regime's delegation announced that it would only discuss the issue of "terrorism." And during the second round of negotiations, the regime used every opportunity that presented itself to defame the opposition as "terrorists."
"Those who carry arms against their own people and their governments are terrorists,” said Faisal Mokdad, the deputy foreign minister of Syria.
In contrast, the representatives of the Syrian opposition wanted first and foremost to negotiate about the creation of a transitional government, even submitting a position paper. But the spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition in Geneva, Luai Safi, complained that the Syrian regime completely ignored the 24-point plan for a political solution.
"We came to these negotiations with a lot of doubts that we have a negotiating party, that the regime is serious about political solution," Safi said. "We put before the regime a proposal or such a solution that addresses the concerns of all Syrians. We are not talking about only one component of Syrians. All Syrians will benefit from the proposal. And the regime would not even really acknowledge that proposal.”
Mandate for transitional government
Foreign ministers from 40 nations sent the Syrian regime and the opposition to Montreux on January 22nd with a clear mandate: Negotiate about the creation of a transitional government equipped with all the requisite powers.
Brahimi at least managed to get the two sides to agree on a common agenda for the next round of negotiations. The next round, if there is one, will concentrate on "violence and terrorism" on day one and then will shift focus to a transitional government on day two. Brahimi hopes that this approach will break the stalemate.
"Unfortunately the government has refused, which raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the government doesn't want to discuss the TGB (transitional governing body) at all," Brahimi said.
Sobering situation in Syria
While the Assad regime has been uncompromising in Geneva and played for time, it has used military force to create facts on the ground in Syria. Around 5,000 people have been killed in the country since the start of the peace talks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is close to the opposition.
When the negotiations first began, there was the hope that progress could at least be made on humanitarian issues. But the results have been sobering. During the "humanitarian pause" in Homs, aid workers evacuated 1,400 people from the city, but only after coming under gunfire. But hundreds of men and young boys, who were supposed to be among the evacuees, are still being detained and questioned by Syrian security forces. It's not clear what will become of the civilians that remain in Homs.
In a noteworthy statement, the president of the politically neutral International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) turned to the public in an editorial.
"Evacuations are not the solution to every humanitarian problem, although the Syrian authorities and opposition groups must allow civilians to leave for safer areas," ICRC President Peter Maurer wrote. "Those who, for whatever reason, choose to stay in their homes remain protected by international humanitarian law and must not be attacked."
UN envoy apologizes
Brahimi has called on the sponsors of the Syrian peace talks, Russia and the United States, to put more pressure on the belligerents and create movement in the deadlocked negotiations. But Russia is currently blocking a UN Security Council resolution, which calls for improved humanitarian access to the Syrian civilian population and foresees sanctions for a failure to comply with this demand.
Brahimi, for his part, finds the results of the past two weeks of negotiations to be shameful.
"I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people that on these two rounds we haven't helped them very much,” the UN envoy said.