At Syria Talks, Sides Meet In Person — But Don't See Eye To Eye

At the Syrian peace talks, government and opposition representatives held their first face-to-face discussion about a political transition — but by the end of the day, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had no progress to report. He urged both sides to focus on the desperate humanitarian situation facing Syrians in several besieged cities.

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At the Syria talks in Geneva today, government and opposition representatives held their first face-to-face discussion about a political transition. By the end of the day, United Nations' mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had no progress to report. He urged both sides to focus on the desperate humanitarian situation facing Syrians in several besieged cities.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has more from Geneva.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Brahimi is too experienced a negotiator to identify whoever may be keeping these talks from bearing fruit, but his remarks were laced with words of disappointment. Regrettably, there was little to report after the first direct talks on Syria's future. Syrian state media report that the government delegation produced a set of basic elements of a political communique, which left the door open for President Bashar al-Assad to run for re-election - a nonstarter for the opposition.

Government spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban told Syrian state television that the country's future must be decided by Syrians, not by what she called the Western hegemony that dictates what is good for Syria.

Unfortunately, said Brahimi, there was no progress on the humanitarian front either. The immediate focus is the old city of Homs, where an estimated 2,500 civilians are trapped and an international aid convoy has been kept out for weeks. Brahimi says there are several such besieged areas, some surrounded by loyalist forces, some by opposition fighters.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I am asking the two parties to consider doing something about all these areas that are surrounded by one side or the other. These people are really suffering inside. So I'm still again asking.

KENYON: In the case of Homs, the Red Cross says once again today permission to deliver the aid did not come from Damascus. Opposition spokesman Louay Safi says such tactics must be condemned.

LOUAY SAFI: And the regime is using starving tactics to force people to submit to its own rule. We believe this kind of behavior rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

KENYON: In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman says what the regime has proposed - evacuation of women and children - is not sufficient, adding, quote, "We've seen similar tactics before from the regime, through its despicable starve or kneel campaign," unquote. She says what's needed is immediate humanitarian relief.

Rebel fighters have also surrounded certain areas in Syria, and opposition officials say they're willing to allow humanitarian aid there as well. Tomorrow, the two sides are due to discuss the 2012 Geneva 1 communique, the nominal basis for these talks.

SIEGEL: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Geneva.

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