The key issue of a transitional government to replace President Bashar Assad blocked any progress Monday in Syrian peace talks, described by one delegate as “a dialogue of the deaf.”
The chief U.N. mediator expressed frustration over inflammatory public remarks by the two sides as he sought to identify some less-contentious issues in hopes of achieving any progress at all at the bargaining table.
But even the most modest attempts at confidence-building measures faltered — including humanitarian aid convoys to besieged parts of the central city of Homs and the release of detainees. Veteran mediator Lakhdar Brahimi somberly declared at the end of the day that he had little to report.
“There are no miracles here,” Brahimi said, adding that both sides nevertheless appeared to have the will to continue the discussions. Asked how he planned to bridge the enormous gap between the two sides, the veteran diplomat quipped: “Ideas, I’ll take them with great pleasure.”
The gulf between the two sides was on full display at a turbulent morning session in which the delegations from the opposition and the Syrian government faced off on the question of Assad’s future.
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition wants an interim replacement for Assad, reiterating at every opportunity that the stated goal of the peace conference, agreed upon by international powers in preliminary talks in June, is to establish a transitional government with full executive powers.
But Assad, whose troops have a tenuous upper hand in Syria, has said he has no intention of stepping down and, on the contrary, may run again for president this year. His delegates have capitalized on the ascendance of Islamic terrorists, saying the priority at the peace conference was to find ways to combat terrorism.