GENEVA — After a rocky day of talks, diplomats failed Tuesday to agree on a date to bring Syria’s warring sides back to the negotiating table, the U.N’s top envoy for Syria said.
Still, Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters at a news conference in Geneva that did not mean all hopes for a peace conference on Syria were dashed.
“(We) are still striving to see if we can have the conference before the end of the year,” he said.
The diplomatic talks among world powers in Geneva at the U.N.’s elegant Palais des Nations contrasted sharply with the heavy shelling and missile attacks being waged in a civil war that both sides still believe they might win militarily.
Diplomats ran into repeated roadblocks Tuesday. The world powers strongly disagreed over what diplomatic steps to take to resolve the fighting and what any future Syrian leadership beyond President Bashar Assad’s government should look like.
Assad’s government signaled it was not ready to negotiate handing over power, while his main ally Russia insisted, once again, that pro-Assad Iran must be part of any talks on a war whose death count officially surpassed 100,000 more than three months ago.
The United Nations, meanwhile, announced that as many as 40 percent of Syrians now need humanitarian aid.
The Syrian war has left over 9 million citizens in need of humanitarian aid, including 6.5 million people who are now internally displaced, said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“They’re staggering, it’s a disaster, and it continues,” Laerke said.
Brahimi and Jeff Feltman, the U.N.’s undersecretary-general for political affairs, met with senior Russian and U.S. officials to see if a U.N.-sponsored peace conference bringing together Assad’s government and a united opposition delegation could be convened this year.
The circle expanded for a second meeting with three permanent members of the U.N.’s 15-nation Security Council — Britain, France, China. By late afternoon, it expanded again to include four of Syria’s neighbors — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq — nations that are struggling to cope with a conflict that has produced more than 2.1 million Syrian refugees.
Diplomats were trying to resume negotiations that created the roadmap for a Syrian political transition adopted last year in Geneva. The plan starts with establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers agreed to by both sides and ends with elections. But there has been no general agreement on how to implement it and one of the main sticking points remains Assad’s future role.
Syria’s information minister said the government delegation is not ready to negotiate handing over power.
Members of the exiled and Western-backed opposition group, meanwhile, insist that Assad be excluded from Syria’s future leadership for any talks to take place.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, that the Assad government knows a second peace conference in Geneva would put the roadmap in place.
“I don’t know how anybody believes the opposition is going to give mutual consent to Assad to continue,” Kerry said. “And the Syrian government has accepted to come to Geneva, so I am hoping the Syrian government, the Russians, the Iranians and others who support the Syrian regime will make certain the Syrian regime will live up to its obligation to come to Geneva to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.”
Russia, meanwhile, said that Iran must take part, reiterating a longtime demand that could make it more difficult to organize the talks. The Syrian opposition has opposed Iran’s involvement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday rejected a statement by Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmad al-Jarba, who said his coalition wouldn’t attend the talks if Iran is invited, as a “provocation.” He said the conference must be called without any preconditions.