GENEVA (AP) – U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says the first phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva will end on Friday, as scheduled, and that the gap between the government and the opposition remains “quite large.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Brahimi said he does not expect any substantial achievements over the next two days.
Still, he said, the “ice is breaking slowly.” He said both sides will decide on Friday when the second phase of the talks will take place.
Earlier Wednesday, both sides managed to discuss the thorniest issue: the opposition’s demand for a transitional government in Syria.
But President Bashar Assad’s adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, said in an interview with The Associated Press that it would be difficult to even hold a presidential election in Syria, given the raging violence of the civil war, and she rejected a transitional governing body.
Louay Safi, a spokesman for the opposition’s negotiating teams, said the issue of a transitional government was put on the table for the first time. But he added the government delegation stuck to its demand that putting an end to terrorists was still its No. 1 priority.
“Today we had a positive step forward because for the first time now we are talking about the transitional governing body, the body whose responsibility is to end dictatorship and move toward democracy and end the fighting and misery in Syria,” he said.
The government seems “more ready to discuss that issue, but still they’re trying to push it to the back of the discussion,” Safi said. “We told them that this has to come first, because nothing else can be achieved before we form a transitional governing body.”
Shaaban said the opposition seemed more willing Wednesday to talk about terrorism, and she described the day’s talks as constructive.
“The problem is that they’re only interested in transitional government. They’re only interested in government, not interested in putting an end to this war,” she said, adding nonetheless that the talks ended “on a more positive note.”
Despite the apparent small step in the peace talks, chances for a breakthrough before everyone goes home Friday appear almost nil as both sides continue to blame each other for an impasse.
Shaaban suggested the government may eventually accept a national unity government that might bring in opponents, but not a transitional body.
“There’s nothing in the world called transitional government. We don’t mind a large government, a national unity government,” she said.
Shaaban hinted for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held this summer may not take place.
“If you think about it now, it’s very difficult to imagine how presidential elections could be conducted in such an atmosphere,” she said. “The logical thing to do is to try to stop violence and then to launch a political process. Whether it is a presidential election or parliamentary elections that need to be done in the country, you need peace and quiet to be able to achieve that,” Shaaban added.
She reiterated what Assad has said: that should there be an election, he sees no reason why he should not run again.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)