UK & World News

  • 24 January 2014, 16:00

Syria Government Threatens Peace Talks Walkout

The Syrian government has threatened to walk out of peace talks if "serious" negotiations do not begin in the next 24 hours.

The ultimatum followed the refusal by the country's opposition to hold face-to-face talks with Bashar al Assad's regime, after it refused to concede to the formation of a transitional government.

The summit, which began in the Swiss town of Montreux but has now moved to the Palais des Nations in Geneva, was meant to be the first time in three years of war that Mr Assad's regime and its opponents were to hold direct negotiations.

Instead, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet the Syrian government and opposition delegations separately.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem is quoted as telling the country's state television: "If no serious work sessions are held by Saturday, the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva due to the other side's lack of seriousness or preparedness."

The difficulties encountered before the talks even began underlined the deep divisions that will have to be overcome to resolve Syria's brutal civil war.

The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and created an estimated 2.3 million refugees.

The so-called Geneva I conference held in 2012 called for the creation of a transitional government, and the opposition contends it requires Mr Assad to step down.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad told Sky News: "President Assad has never been the cause of this bloodshedding.

"President Assad is elected by the Syrian people, and it is the Syrian people who will decide the future of their country.

"We are here to discuss all these types of questions. For God's sake why don't we sit together and find out the answers."

Speaking after his meeting with the Syrian government delegation, Mr Brahimi said there had been a "positive atmosphere".

He is due to meet the opposition delegation later.

Nazir al-Hakim, a member of the opposition delegation, said: "We agree to negotiate on the application of Geneva I. The regime does not accept that.

"We will be in the same room when there is a clear agenda for negotiations. We need guarantees that Geneva I will be discussed."

Opposition leader Ahmed Jarba has insisted that Mr Assad cannot stay in power.

"We have started to look into the future without him. Assad and all of his regime is in the past now," he said.

"Nobody should have any doubt that the head of the regime is finished. This regime is dead."

Mr Brahimi has indicated he aims to open negotiations on practical steps, including local ceasefires, prisoner releases and access for international aid convoys, before tackling tougher sticking points.

However, even these limited goals could be scuppered if the delegates leave.

Iran is not attending the conference after the UN withdraw an invitation over Tehran's refusal to endorse a plan for a transitional national body in Syria.

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