The next round of United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva faces more delays amid concerns some pro-opposition negotiators want to force the UN’s hand and bring about a political standoff with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, indicated talks could start next week, other reports said they could take longer to get off the ground.
More than 135 people were killed in the first week of the partial truce, but de Mistura pointed out the toll was lower than the average recorded in recent months of carnage. Brokered by Washington and Moscow, the moratorium on hostilities covers only the Syrian territories not presently under the control of Daesh or the Nusra Front.
The five-year war has killed more than a quarter of a million people and forced nearly five million Syrians out of their country into Lebanon, Turkey, the European Union and parts of Africa and Asia beset by other ongoing crises.
Russia wants the talks to include, according to its Foreign Ministry, “the whole spectrum of the opposition, during which the Syrians themselves should determine the future of their country.” The West’s position remains inconsistent, with U.S. ally Saudi Arabia calling for President al-Assad to leave at the beginning of any political solution, a position opposed by Russia. Some Saudi-backed forces are pushing to promote a substitute ‘president’ to replace al-Assad.
Syrian nationalists oppose the idea of an exit for al-Assad as a precondition and are also concerned the talks may end with a territorial carve-up of Syria. The fact that neither Daesh nor Nusra, which both hold Syrian territory, are part of the cease-fire deal has increased the risk of a de facto partition, analysts say.