The first round of Geneva 2 talks meant to negotiate an end to the bloody Syrian civil war, after several twists and turns, ultimately failed to make any progress at all, U.N. special representative Lakhdar Brahimi said Friday.
Brahimi addressed a crowd of senior government officials, diplomats, military leaders, and experts at the Munich Security Conference in a late-night session devoted to the three-year-long Syria crisis. He personally oversaw a week’s worth of talks in Geneva between the Syrian regime and the leadership of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a group representing some of the more moderate elements of Syria’s civilian opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The goal was to implement the Geneva Communique, the 2012 document that called for a transitional governing body in Syria.
“We’ve just had eight days of negotiations in Geneva… I’m sorry to report there was no progress,” Brahimi said. “It was very good that this has taken place, it was the first time that the government and some people who were opposing it met publicly and under the auspices of the United Nations, but we haven’t achieved anything.”
Not only was there no progress in finding a way out of the conflict, which has claimed more than 130,000 lives and created millions of refugees, but the talks even failed to make progress on ancillary issues such as humanitarian access to cities under siege, the release of prisoners, or the release of information about those who have disappeared after being arrested by the regime, Brahimi said.
“We thought that if we first addressed some of the humanitarian issues perhaps we could achieve something there, but we didn’t,” he said.
Brahimi said he hoped another round of talks in Geneva would begin on Feb. 10, although the Syrian regime has not yet committed to attend. Brahimi called on Russia to bring the regime back to the negotiating table.
“I hope that those who have influence on the government and also on the opposition will do their best to make sure that the people who come back on the 10th of February will be a little more constructive and discuss seriously how this war is going to be finished.” he said.
The Daily Beast asked Brahimi whether the regime believed in the basic principles of the Geneva communique, and if not, could the negotiations continue.
“The regime says now that they accept the communique and they want to implement it, but of course they have a reading that is perhaps different than other people, and they repeat every day that the problem is terrorism,” Brahimi said. “The government thinks they can win.”
Anne Marie Slaughter, former State Department official, compared the international attitude toward the plight of Syrian citizens to the international community’s failure to stop the atrocities in the Holocaust during World War II.
“In the United States we often ask, ‘Why didn’t Roosevelt bomb the trains?” she said. “We aren’t very different.”
Slaughter also railed against the Obama administration’s Syria policy, which has touted a shaky agreement to rid the Syrian regime of its chemical-weapons stockpiles while avoiding direct intervention in the civil war itself.
Kerry met with Brahimi, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Russian Foreign Sergei Lavrov Friday night in Munich.
“Secretary Kerry pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to push the regime for more progress on moving the remaining chemical weapons within Syria to the port in Latakia. He reiterated his belief that the pace and progress has been unacceptable,” the State Department said in readout of the meeting. “Finally, they discussed the next round of negotiations in February. Secretary Kerry made clear that the creation of a transitional governing body, by mutual consent, must be a primary focus.”
Brahimi’s not so subtle criticism of the Syrian government’s attitude comes after the regime’s delegation repeatedly criticized him, disobeyed his instructions, and disrespected him in other ways during the Geneva talks, according to two diplomatic sources who were privy to the details of the closed-door parts of the negotiations. The regime delegation’s clashes with Brahimi started in Montreux when senior officials from several countries, including Secretary of State John Kerry, met to kick off the negotiations. In the public opening session, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem rambled on for 30 minutes about terrorism and refused Brahimi’s repeated requests to be constructive, stick to the topics on the agenda, and keep his remarks within the allotted time.
The regime delegation’s antics continued when negotiations began in Geneva. The head of the regime delegation, Bashar Jaafari, spent 30 of his 45 allotted minutes in one negotiating session on an anti-American screed deriding U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford (who wasn’t even there), one inside diplomatic source said.
Participants were taken aback in another session when Jaafari admitted that the regime is indeed holding children on the grounds that they are “spies” for the terrorists, the diplomatic source said. Jaafari also admitted that the regime is indeed holding women on the grounds that they are presumed to be suicide bombers.
Throughout the sessions, Jaafari repeatedly made derisive references to Wahabiism, the branch of Islam followed by the leadership of Saudi Arabia, among others. At one point Brahimi told Jaafari he would not tolerate any insult to any faith in the negotiations and that Jaafari’s comments bordered on blasphemy. Jaafari wouldn’t quit, so that negotiation session abruptly ended.
“Jaafari was insulting Brahimi in the closed-door negotiations,” another diplomatic source said. “It was utter lunacy.”