UN envoy lowers expectations ahead of Syria talks on Friday

GENEVA -- Lowering expectations about his ability to help end Syria's civil war, the UN special envoy announced talks between government and opposition representatives will start on Friday to embark on a six-month process that he hopes will include civil society and women's groups.

See Full Article

Staffan di Mistura raised nearly as many questions as he answered in a news conference in Geneva on Monday, the day when talks had originally been set to begin before tensions over who would be invited, involving countries like Russia and Turkey, forced a delay. He also confirmed comments from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week that the two main sides won't meet face-to-face initially in the "proximity" talks.

De Mistura insisted he was sticking to Security Council decisions to shun some groups like the Islamic State group and al Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front, but refused any clarification beyond that. He said invitations would go out Tuesday, but declined to specify his criteria about deciding who receives them.

"We want to make sure that when and if we start, to start at least on the right foot," said de Mistura, who succeeded Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi as the top UN envoy for Syria. "It will be uphill anyway."

The step-by-step approach testifies to the immense difficulties that many diplomats and world powers have faced in efforts to end the nearly five-year war that has cost more than 250,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes to places like Europe, and opened the way for IS to seize vast territory in Syria and Iraq.

"The first priority will be the focus of the talks of what most Syrians -- if not all -- want to hear: The possibility of a broad ceasefire, and the possibility of stopping the threat of ISIL, and therefore, thanks to a broader ceasefire, an increase of humanitarian aid," he said, using another acronym for IS.

Learning from past failures and missteps, de Mistura jettisoned an initiative of four "working groups" on various aspects of Syria's crisis led by Europeans which he launched last summer. He also insisted the new talks didn't amount to "Geneva III," an allusion to earlier rounds of unsuccessful discussions.

De Mistura predicted "a lot of shuttling because there are not only different delegations but also civil society, women and others who deserve to be heard ... So you could have quite a lot of simultaneous meetings taking place."

"We want to make sure that there is a substantial presence of women to advise me and make sure we are in the right position for the future of Syria," he added.

The entire process of getting the talks going has been entangled in regional power-jockeying and geopolitics: Turkey, which has long fought a Kurdish resistance group PKK, insists that some Kurdish groups who have been battling IS -- and at times succeeding against it -- must be kept out.

"There are efforts among some countries to water down the opposition. We oppose this," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara earlier on Monday. "To insist that terror groups such as the YPG (the main Kurdish militia) are included within the opposition would lead to the failure of the process. We have to insist that this is extremely dangerous."

Russia, a rival of Turkey and key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has called for the inclusion of Kurdish representatives, and the U.S. and others have supported the Kurds in the fight against IS. Russia and Iran consider some members of an opposition group formed in Turkey as terrorists too.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who spoke to reporters alongside Cavusoglu, said the EU puts "extremely high value on the fact that the process in Geneva will be inclusive," and De Mistura said he too wanted the process to be inclusive.

Last month, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on the Syria crisis that set a target for the peace talks to start this month. That resolution also aims to produce credible governance and a schedule for drafting a new Syrian constitution. But airstrikes by Russia have altered the military situation on the ground.

The Geneva talks will be the first since discussions collapsed two years ago, but comments by Syrian opposition figures cast further doubts on the process.

Salem Meslet, spokesman for the opposition Supreme Committee for Negotiations, a Saudi-backed body, insisted the government should lift sieges imposed on several rebel-held areas around the country before any talks take off.

"We are not putting demands. We are calling for the implementation of a Security Council resolution that Russia signed," Meslet told The Associated Press. The opposition group will hold a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to make a final decision on whether to attend the talks.

Downplaying such preconditions, de Mistura described the talks more as consultations between groups meeting "in proximity" -- a sign that even minimal progress is uncertain. He projected a long-process of shuttle diplomacy over months that begin with a two- or three-week process.

"Don't be surprised, there will be a lot of posturing -- we know that -- a lot of walkouts and walk-ins because a bomb has fallen, or because someone has done an attack," he said. "We should not be impressed, neither depressed, but it's likely to happen. The important thing is that we keep the momentum."

Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Memorial site: Alberta apologizes to families for cleaning up plane wreckage

    Canada News CTV News
    WHITECOURT, Alta. -- The province of Alberta is apologizing to the families of three people killed in a plane crash almost 65 years ago after cleaning up the wreckage without warning. A memorial site near Whitecourt, Alta. Source
  • Ontario PCs' Urgent Priorities Act to address hydro salaries, York University strike

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government has introduced legislation that, if passed, would give it sweeping new powers over executive compensation at Hydro One. The bill, dubbed the Urgent Priorities Act, was introduced today by Energy Minister Greg Rickford and would give the government authority to approve executive compensation at the utility. Source
  • 'This is shameful': Trump's news conference with Putin stuns fellow Republicans

    World News CBC News
    On a trip in which Donald Trump dumbfounded allies and his usual critics in the Democrat Party with comments concerning the European Union and British leaders, the U.S. president ended with a news conference performance at his first head-to-head summit with Russia President Vladimir Putin that had even some Republicans shaking their heads. Source
  • Lawmakers call Trump's performance 'bizarre,' 'shameful'

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Key members of Congress, including some Republicans, are criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump's performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin as "bizarre," "shameful" and a "missed opportunity" to stand up to Russia. Source
  • Members of Trudeau's youth council urge cancellation of Kinder Morgan buyout

    Canada News CBC News
    Members of Justin Trudeau's youth council are urging the prime minister to withdraw his decision to buy Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. Sixteen past and present members of the youth council are releasing a letter to Trudeau expressing their "disappointment" in the Liberal government's move to buy the pipeline project for $4.5 billion. Source
  • Judge temporarily halts deportation of reunified families

    World News CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge on Monday ordered a temporary halt to any deportations of reunited families who were separated by the Trump administration after crossing the southwest border. The American Civil Liberties Union had asked Judge Dana Sabraw to delay deportations a week after reunification. Source
  • 'A class act': Ray Emery played in a Hamilton charity hockey game the night before he died

    Canada News CBC News
    Ray Emery was giving back to Hamilton and playing the game he loved the night before he died. The ex-NHL goalie was one of several current and former professional players who hit the ice as part of Hockey Night in Hamilton, a charity game that raised funds for Food4Kids. Source
  • Workers at Goderich salt mine accept deal to end 12-week strike

    Canada News CBC News
    The 12-week strike at the salt mine in Goderich, Ontario is over. Workers voted Monday to accept a three-year deal reached between Unifor Local 16-0 and the mine owner, Compass Minerals. The salt mine, the world's largest, employs more than 350 unionized workers. Source
  • Iran arrests 46 in fresh crackdowns on Instagram models

    World News CTV News
    TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of people in fresh crackdowns on models and associated colleagues posting "immoral images" online. The official IRNA news agency reported Monday that officials in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, some 1250 kilometres, or 630 miles, south of the capital Tehran, arrested eight women and 36 other people in the photography, beauty salons and wedding businesses who used Instagram to share what they considered indecent images and…
  • 'Kloe inside washer': Mom's post about girl trapped in front-loading machine goes viral

    World News CTV News
    A mother is warning other parents about the dangers of front-loaded laundry equipment after her three-year-old daughter became trapped in a new washing machine. Lindsey McIver’s story has garnered more than 250,000 shares on Facebook since July 11. Source