Syria Peace Talks Take A Break

The Syria peace talks in Geneva adjourn with no breakthroughs or substantive signs of progress. But international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says there is some common ground between the government and its opponents, and he announced that the talks will resume on Feb. 10.

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No tangible results, that verdict today from Syria's foreign minister as peace talks wrapped up in Geneva. Despite the lack of progress, opposition delegates say they gained new support by standing face to face with representatives of Bashar al-Assad. The U.N. mediator is asking both sides to return to talks on February 10th. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Geneva and begins our coverage.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi set unassuming goals for this first round of talks, keeping the two sides in the same room, for instance, and getting them talking on the same subject from time to time. He calls these talks a modest beginning that can be built on, but he has no illusions about how short a distance the two sides have come.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: They gap between the sides remain wide. There is no use pretending otherwise. Nevertheless, during our discussions, I observed a little bit of common ground, perhaps more than the two sides themselves realize or recognize.

KENYON: Brahimi ticked off 10 areas of potential common ground, including the need to discuss a transitional governing body, the need to fight terrorism and the need to rapidly address humanitarian needs before noting that no actual agreement was reached on any of those areas. The opposition accepted Brahimi's invitation to return in 10 days, but Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem says his side must consult with Damascus first.

Mouallem also called the opposition immature and accused Washington of undermining the talks, a reference to the U.S. supplying arms to the moderate opposition. He's heard here through an interpreter.

WALID AL-MOUALLEM: (Through interpreter) They know that there is no moderate opposition. There are only terrorist organizations.

KENYON: A senior U.S. official says Mouallem's name calling is, quote, "the mark of genuine immaturity." Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, says the opposition achieved its objective at Geneva.

AHMAD JARBA: (Through interpreter) Today, the world is more convinced of the justice of our revolution than ever before. Now, the regime is walking in its own funeral procession. Its acceptance of the Geneva One principles is the beginning of the end. It is the beginning of handing over power from the dictator to the people.

KENYON: If it is the beginning of a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict, though, it's a particularly bloody one. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that while the Geneva talks were going on, another 1900 people were killed in what the U.S. official calls Syria's nasty war of attrition. Hundreds of rebels killed by loyalist soldiers and militias, hundreds of soldiers killed by rebels or car bombs, al-Qaida-linked rebels killed by other rebels and hundreds of civilians killed by a barrage of shells, barrel bombs, missiles and snipers.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Geneva.

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