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Syria Talks End WIth No Concrete Results

UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi speaks at United Nations headquarters in Geneva on January 31.
The first round of peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition has ended in Geneva without a breakthrough.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on January 31 that the past week of negotiations failed to produce any "tangible results."

Muallem blamed the failure on the opposition and what he described as blatant interference by the United States, a leading backer of the opposition.

Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba accused the regime of showing no "serious commitment" to ending the nearly three-year-old war.

UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi acknowledged progress had been minimal, but said he observed "a little bit of common ground."

Speaking to reporters after the conclusion of the weeklong closed-door talks, Brahimi described the so-called "Geneva II" peace conference as "a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build."

He said both sides were committed to discussing the full implementation of the Geneva communique agreed upon by international powers in 2012.

That document sets out steps to end fighting and urges the establishment of a transitional Syria government until elections can be held.

He said the opposition had agreed to return on February 10, but that the delegation representing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad said it first needed to consult with Damascus.

The government and the opposition remain bitterly divided, with the government rejecting opposition demands for Assad's resignation.

Well over 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict began nearly three years ago.

Watchdog: Chemical-Weapons Removal Must Accelerate

In related news, a chemical weapons watchdog said on January 31 that Syria must accelerate the shipping of its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in a statement that Syrian officials must "pick up the pace" in order for it to meet a June 30 deadline for all of its chemical weapons to be destroyed.

U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have also expressed disappointment in delays by Syria.

Less than 5 percent of the total has thus far been removed.

But Russian Foreign Ministry official Mikhail Ulyanov said on January 31 that Syria is acting "in good faith" in its pledge to eliminate chemical weapons.

Russia negotiated with Washington last year on the chemical weapons deal for Syria to avert threatened U.S. air strikes.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and Interfax