Syrian Government, Opposition Begin Peace Talks With 'Half Steps'

This week, representatives of the Syrian government and opposition met in Geneva, Switzerland, beginning negotiations to end Syria's violent civil war. Guest host Kelly McEvers speaks with NPR's Deborah Amos, who is following developments at the international conference.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

After months in the making, Syrian peace talks began today in Geneva. Leaders from the Syrian government and the opposition met face-to-face today in the first ever direct negotiations between the two sides. The goal: to end the violence that's killed more than 100,000 people.

NPR's Deborah Amos is in Geneva, and she joins us to talk about the day's events. Hi, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hi.

MCEVERS: The talks are off to a, shall we say, slow start. So far, nothing has actually been agreed upon. Just a few hours ago, the international mediator for the talks, Lakhdar Brahimi, gave a press conference. What did he say?

AMOS: Well, he said exactly that, not much has been achieved. He talks about not steps but half steps. It was a very shaky day, a half-hour meeting in the morning, a little over an hour in the afternoon. What they talked about was humanitarian aid. What was interesting is the opposition seemed more prepared for these talks. They brought in a very detailed plan to have convoys rolling into one city in central Syria, the city of Homs.

And if there is agreement tomorrow, those convoys could roll as soon as Monday. But it's not clear - and even Brahimi said it wasn't clear if they could get that agreement by tomorrow.

MCEVERS: And I understand there was some drama this morning. Syria's foreign minister who's heading up the Syrian government delegation and some of his delegates didn't show up for the first session. What was that all about?

AMOS: Well, what I think we were seeing is the regime's deep reservations about these talks on Syrian state media. The opposition was referred to as the so-called opposition. The foreign minister and two senior government ministers skipped the talks today. The U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was not happy about that. What he said in the news conference tonight is that the foreign minister was in the building, but he was not in the talks.

MCEVERS: So expectations are low for these peace negotiations. With the first day of talks over, though, do you see that the expectations have changed at all?

AMOS: I don't, and I think that the diplomats that we are talking on - with on the sidelines all are keeping expectations low. The very fact that they're going to come back again tomorrow, all of their hotels are booked for a full week. So the delegations think they are staying. And I suppose there is some success in that. But they haven't even tackled the hard stuff.

They haven't talked about the war itself, the future role for Bashar al-Assad. They have completely divergent views on how they see those issues. So I suppose the fact that we got through the first day is a half step, as Brahimi talked about, but there are tough, tough things to talk about this week.

MCEVERS: NPR's Deborah Amos in Geneva. Deb, thanks so much for your time.

AMOS: Thank you.

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