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Britain, France Blame Assad For Geneva Failure

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
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By RFE/RL
Britain and France have blamed the Syrian government for the failure of the internationally backed Geneva peace conference, after a second round of talks ended on February 15 with a final session that lasted only 27 minutes.

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had “blocked any progress” in the talks.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “the responsibility for it lies squarely with the Assad regime.”

There was no immediate official reaction from Moscow or Washington, both sponsors of the peace process.

But U.S. President Barack Obama had said on February 14 that Washington was considering “intermediate steps” in order to apply pressure on the government in Damascus and improve humanitarian conditions across Syria.

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi apologized to the Syrian people for the failure of negotiations, as well as an evacuation plan for civilians in the city of Homs has only been partially carried out.

"I am very, very sorry and I apologize to the Syrian people that their hopes which were very, very high that something will happen here. I think that the little that has been achieved in Homs gave them even more hope that maybe this is the beginning of the coming out of this horrible crisis they are in," Brahimi said.

More Talks?

Brahimi said a date has not been set for a third round of talks. He said that both sides must, instead, “go back to their base” for consultations and to reflect upon whether they want peace talks to continue.

He also said that he would now seek consultations with the United States, Russia, and the United Nations.

Opposition negotiators have wanted the talks to focus on establishing a transitional government to replace Assad until elections can be organized in Syria.

Government delegates insist Assad will not step down from power and say the talks should instead address the issue of “terrorism” -- a term that Damascus uses to describe all opposition rebels, regardless of whether they are affiliated with Al-Qaeda militants in the country.

Despite Brahimi's description of the second round in Geneva as a failure -- and increasing doubts about the future of the Geneva process -- the Syria government's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, insisted that the peace process is not over.

"No, no. We will be back. We are committed to serving the interests of our own people in stopping the bloodshed, combating terrorism, and bringing about a political settlement acceptable by the Syrian people based on the Geneva communique," Jaafari  said. "We don't have an impasse, we are still in negotiations. We didn't say that we failed."

But Louay Safi, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, was pessimistic about prospects for a third round of talks -- blaming Russia for not doing enough to pressure Assad's regime to start discussing the issue of a transitional government.

"I am very sorry to say, really, there is nothing positive we can take [from the talks]. We have been disappointed completely -- not only by the regime, but by other sponsors so far," Safi said.

"Particularly, the Russians have not prevailed over the regime that wants to stall. I hope they will do something about it because they were part of the first meeting that led to the formation of Geneva communique."

Safi concluded that a third round of peace talks "without talking about transition would be a waste of time."

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and the BBC

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