UN envoy says Feb 25 Syria talks unrealistic
STOCKHOLM - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoThe U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has warned that the planned resumption of troubled peace talks on Feb. 25 was not realistic, a Swedish newspaper reported Feb. 19, one week after the countries supporting a solution in Syria had reached a “cessation of hostilities.”
“I cannot realistically call for new Geneva talks starting on Feb. 25,” de Mistura was quoted as telling the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.
“We need 10 days of preparations and invitations. But we will aim to do this soon,” he said in a telephone interview from Damascus.
Indirect talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition collapsed on Feb. 3 after a Russian-backed regime onslaught on the northern city of Aleppo, and a second round was penciled in for Feb. 25.
De Mistura made a surprise trip to Damascus after world powers last week called for immediate aid access throughout Syria and a “cessation of hostilities” to begin by Feb. 19.
“I cannot say when I will call for talks. We have been disappointed in the past, now I am pragmatic and determined,” he told the paper. “We need real talks about peace, not just talks about talks.”
“I would like that the U.S. and Russia, with their partners, agree about a beginning of a cessation of hostilities between today and mid-next week,” he said.
“Now the ball is in their court.”
De Mistura also warned of the dangers of the five-year Syrian war developing into a wider regional conflict, voicing concern about actions by neighboring Turkey.
He said Turkey’s bombardment of Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighters across the border has made the need for a solution ever more pressing.
“Turkey is complicating everything and it might complicate things further. This is a reason for more urgency. Major countries must realize that we need to put a lid on what can become even more of a regional and proxy conflict,” he said.
“Any type of further conflict along the border of Syria has the potential to spin out of control.”
The United Nations has also begun delivering aid to people living in areas of Syria besieged by the government, rebels and jihadist forces.
“On the humanitarian side, the beginning is there but needs to be pushed ahead,” de Mistura said.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Russian military officials have held talks in Geneva ahead of a wider meeting on Feb. 19 aimed at trying to secure a cessation of hostilities in Syria, diplomats said.
The unannounced bilateral meeting was aimed at narrowing positions before the two powers jointly chair a United Nations meeting on the issue, the diplomats told Reuters, declining to give details.
“The idea of the whole exercise is for Russia and the United States to have a joint view. The U.N. will apparently promote a ceasefire and implementation, and will negotiate with the parties,” a diplomat close to the process told Reuters.
U.N. spokesman Michele Zaccheo said the larger meeting of the International Syria Support Group would take place at the United Nations on the afternoon of Feb. 19.
Moscow hopes that agreements on a ceasefire in Syria will be reached on Feb. 19, Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying on Feb. 18.
On Feb. 19, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, must cease hostilities on Feb. 19 in line with an agreement made between major powers.
“France remains extremely concerned by the dangerous escalation of the conflict, especially in Aleppo,” Nadal told reporters.
“It calls on the regime and its allies, including Russia, to stop its attacks against civilians and implement the commitments made in Munich on Feb. 11 to cease hostilities from today.”