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Syria opposition: Regime obstructing peace talks

Urges Russia to salvage UN talks in Geneva by asking regime to take part in face-to-face discussions

Gulf News

GENEVA: The Syrian opposition said Tuesday that the regime delegation to the Geneva peace talks is refusing to negotiate with them directly and insists on only discussing terrorism.

Opposition spokesman Yahya Aridi said the Damascus delegation told UN envoy Staffan de Mistura it won’t negotiate directly with the opposition, making it difficult to move forward in the eighth round of indirect negotiations aimed at ending the nearly seven-year civil war.

There was no immediate response from the regime team in Switzerland, which met again with de Mistura on Tuesday and did not speak to reporters after the meeting.

The opposition has been calling for the “indirect” peace talks — with de Mistura’s team shuttling between the delegations — to become direct.

Another opposition official in Geneva, Ahmad Ramadan, told The Associated Press that the government delegation has also refused to discuss three of the four main topics proposed by de Mistura — a new constitution, governance, elections and combating terrorism. He said the government is insisting only on discussing terrorism.

The Syrian opposition has urged Russia to salvage the UN peace talks in Geneva this week by persuading the Syrian regime delegation to begin direct face-to-face discussions, the media reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said that plans were underway for a second gathering of Syrian representatives to devise a political solution to the bloody conflict in the Middle Eastern nation.

“We have spoken about Syria. We will gather again as soon as possible in Sochi,” Erdogan said on Monday, referring to the Russian Black Sea resort that hosted the first Syrian National Dialogue Congress, Efe news reported.

“Naturally, the focus was on the situation in the Middle East settlement that has deteriorated dramatically and on the Syrian affairs where our countries are closely cooperating,” Putin said during a joint press conference with Erdogan in Ankara.

The Russian President arrived in Ankara after brief stops earlier Monday in Damascus and Cairo.

The first Russian troops returned home on Tuesday from their deployment in Syria, the army said, beginning a partial withdrawal announced by Putin.

“The battalion of military police from the southern military district [of Russia] deployed to the Syrian Arab Republic has been flown by two military planes to Makhachkala (the capital of Dagestan) airport,” the Russian army said in a statement.