Syrian peace talks end with little progress, but hope for future

Long-anticipated Syrian peace talks adjourned Friday in Switzerland without a major breakthrough but with muted optimism that a negotiation process had finally been launched after nearly three years of civil war.

After almost a week of face-to-face talks between Syrian government officials and members of the U.S.-backed opposition bloc, both sides agreed to meet again within two weeks, said Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief United Nations mediator.

“Progress is very slow indeed,” Brahimi told reporters in Geneva. “This is a very modest beginning. But it is a beginning on which we can build.”

The chief Syrian negotiator, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, said at a news conference that the government would decide whether to participate in more talks after consultations in Damascus, the Syrian capital, with President Bashar Assad and other officials.

Although frustrated by the talks, known as Geneva II, Syrian officials were widely expected to return for another round, if largely because of pressure from Damascus’ key ally, Russia. Moscow worked closely for months with Washington to ensure that this week’s Syrian peace conference in Switzerland took place.

Intense international pressure finally brought both sides to the bargaining table, despite deep disagreements between the two camps and a split in the fractious opposition about the utility of the talks. Neither side wants to be blamed for the collapse of the nascent process that appears to be the only hope, however faint, of ending the fighting.

Few participants or observers were surprised by the lack of a quick fix in negotiations designed to craft a political solution to a conflict that has left tens of thousands dead and sown instability throughout the Middle East.

“There was immense hope when this conference started,” Brahimi said. “I understand that already people are starting to feel disappointed. What I can tell them is that things have gone so far down, they are not going to get up from the ditch overnight.”

U.S. officials appeared pleased with the conduct of the opposition bloc, which is a largely exile-based assemblage with little influence on fighters in Syria. The opposition team in Geneva seemed to put aside the many internal divisions in public comments and focused on initiating a process that it views as inevitably leading to Assad’s removal from office.

Some expect the talks to last for months or possibly years, as has been the case in some previous peace negotiations.

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