Syria peace talks break down again
Diplomacy • Future of negotiations called into question.
Published: February 15, 2014 10:39PM
Updated: February 15, 2014 10:39PM

Geneva • The U.N. mediator for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, wrapped up the second round of peace talks Saturday without breaking a long-standing deadlock or setting a date for a third round and urged the parties to think seriously about their commitment to the negotiations.

Brahimi said the talks had broken down primarily because the Syrian government balked at his suggestion that the negotiators discuss both sides’ top demands early on, rather than spending days on the government’s demands.

“I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people,” said Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat who has spent decades negotiating thorny conflicts, after a last-ditch 45-minute meeting with the two sides ended in disagreement. “I apologize to them that on these two rounds we haven’t helped them very much.”

The dispiriting finish called into question the future of the talks. In two rounds, the talks have produced no actual negotiations on resolving a conflict that has killed 140,000 people and driven 9.5 million from their homes, even though they are sponsored by Russia and the United States and backed by dozens of other countries.

“It’s not good for Syria that we come back for another round and fall in the same trap that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round,” Brahimi said. “So I think it is better that every side goes back and reflect and take their responsibility: Do they want this process to take place or not? I will do the same.”

He said he would report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and push for a meeting with Ban, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Some Western diplomats have suggested that Brahimi, 80, might be worried about harming his legacy by presiding over empty talks, and that he might recommend ending them. But others pointed out that he is famous for his patience.

Western officials were quick to call for new pressure on the Syrian government. Minutes after Brahimi spoke, British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted that the U.N. Security Council “must now act to address the humanitarian crisis urgently.” But Russia, the Syrian government’s most powerful backer, sees Western attempts to require access for aid workers as a pretext for military action and it has blocked previous Security Council measures on Syria.

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