Syrian peace talks in Moscow end in disarray

Parties agreed on a set of principles for a political settlement; opposition later reverses its position

Published - April 10, 2015 11:35 pm IST - MOSCOW:

Talks between the Syrian government and the opposition ended in acrimony on Friday with the parties blaming each other for the breakdown.

The Russian mediator of the weeklong meeting, Vitaly Naumkin, said the parties agreed on a set of principles for a political settlement, including the condemnation of foreign support for terrorist groups, a call for preserving state institutions and lifting economic sanctions.

But some opposition representatives later reversed their support for the initially approved document because of a failure to agree on moves to improve mutual trust, such as prisoners’ release, said Mr. Naumkin, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Eastern Studies.

Moscow arranged the negotiations in a bid to raise its international profile at a time of bitter tensions with the West over Ukraine. The meeting followed the first round of Moscow-hosted talks in January.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, refused to attend the Moscow talks amid deep distrust of Russia’s intentions.

Russia has staunchly backed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s government throughout the country’s civil war, now in its fifth year, which has killed more than 220,000 people and has turned nearly four million into refugees.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s U.N. envoy who represented the Syrian government in the negotiations, sought to cast them as a success, hailing the initially agreed document. He tried to downplay opposition reversal of support.

But Samir Aita, one of the opposition representatives who attended the talks, criticised the government for stonewalling demands for prisoner releases. He said “the document doesn’t create hope, on the contrary, it destroys it.”

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