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Syria peace talks start, get stuck on Assad’s future
Diplomacy » Syrian foreign minister rips U.N. chief for trying to cut him off.

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Many of the nations represented here have backed the rebels, sending arms, money or other help. While Russia, an ally and military supplier to the Assad regime, is participating in the talks, Iran - Syrian’s staunchest military patron - was excluded.

In a mark of the high emotions on all sides, the closing news conference with Brahimi and Ban erupted in shouting, as Syrian journalists accused Ban of ignoring their questions.

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Syrian activists who came to cover the meeting for opposition news organizations expressed disappointment that the government was so uncompromising.

"Nothing has changed," said Adnan Hadad of the Aleppo Media Center. "They came here to say the same old stuff they’ve been saying for the past three years."

Still, Wednesday’s nine-hour session of speeches was notable because members of the Syrian opposition and the government sat in the same room without walking out. Ban said afterward that the discussions were cordial, and Kerry said the initial confrontations were to be expected.

"Opening positions are opening positions," he told reporters. He set no timetable for the negotiations but suggested that they will be lengthy and difficult. "Talk takes a while," Kerry said.

Diplomats and U.S. officials caution that political breakthroughs are unlikely now. Rather, they say, the effort begun Wednesday will focus on confidence-building measures such as local cease-fires and deliveries of humanitarian aid - steps that might help build wider support for a peace process ahead of future talks.

Diplomats attending the session said the two sides’ uncompromising public posturing concealed a deeper desire to see at least some results emerge from the negotiations.

"This was their public position," said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "It was very obvious they were raising the rhetoric. I think their private positions will be different. . . . We don’t know what will happen in closed rooms."

The day ended on a more conciliatory note. In final comments, a more subdued Moualem said the conference had "charted the first steps to dialogue."

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Jarba added, "We have to open the way for negotiations."

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Suzan Haidamous, Susannah George and Ahmed Ramadan in Beirut contributed to this report.


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