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Geneva talks to extend until mid-December

Government delegation might go home to “consult” for several days

Gulf News

United Nations: The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has said that the current talks in Geneva aimed at ending the six-year-old Syrian conflict is to run through December 15, but that it would not be “just a normal round of talks”. He told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday that the Syrian government delegation might go home to “consult” for several days, as the talks would focus on a new constitution and UN-supervised parliamentary and presidential elections.

The UN mediator also mentioned an unspecified “12 points” in the works that could lead to a “shared vision of what Syria could look like” after prolonged civil war.

The eighth round of UN-mediated talks between the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and the opposition formally began in Geneva on November 29.

Mistura cited a “serious and professional” atmosphere at the talks, adding that a lack of trust was “the biggest obstacle.”

More than 470,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions have been driven from their homes since the conflict began in March 2011 with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

“We have been talking about the rules of the game, and therefore reemphasising: no preconditions,” De Mistura said.

The current round of talks will be taking place against “quite a backdrop of intense diplomatic activity” in recent weeks to find a political solution to the Syria crisis, following important meetings in Viet Nam’s DaNang, Russia’s Sochi, and Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh.

And after the territorial losses of Daesh in Raqqa and Deir Al Zor, “there has been now a moment of truth; we need to find a political solution,” De Mistura underscored.

So, he said, in what is “not just a normal round of talks,” if preconditions are raised: “I immediately stop the conversation and say, Sorry, have you heard what the Security Council has said, have you heard what in fact many senior political leaders have been saying? No preconditions, let’s start the discussions again now.”

The UN mediator noted that fact that the warring parties are still not meeting in the same room is by no means a deal-breaker.

What is important, he added, is “substance,” and the search for “commonalities” between the two delegations. He also clarified that during the intra-Syrian talks, the issue of the presidency did not come up.

“We have not discussed the issue of presidency. We have been discussing the 12 points/principles, and you will see they are of a broad nature but they have an impact on everything in the future constitution; and we have started addressing the issue about how to proceed on a new constitution. So that issue has not even come up,” De Mistura, adding that he wants to believe that the “issue should come up with the Syrians through UN supervised elections according to Security Council [resolution 2254 (2015)].”

Also, earlier Thursday, Jan Egeland, the UN Special Advisor for Syria, appealed for greater and more urgent efforts to enable safe evacuations of some 500 people, including 167 children, besieged eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.

“Men with power are sitting with lists of children that are in urgent need of being evacuated, if not they will, many of them, die; and we still do not have the green light,” Egeland said, expressing hope that the evacuations are possible with the Government’s approval despite insecurity adding that calm could then be negotiated with both sides.

“It is heart breaking; it is intolerable; it will be a stain on our conscience for a very, very long time, unless it can happen very soon. I was told today that nine patients on this list have died,” he added. According to estimates more than 400,000 people are trapped in eastern Ghouta, cut off from much needed food and relief assistance.