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23 Feb, 2017 09:24

New round of Syria talks kicks off in Geneva on back of Astana progress

A new round of UN-sponsored Syria peace talks has kicked off in Geneva. Though no breakthrough is expected, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says he is determined not to lose the momentum towards a resolution.

"I ask you to work to work together. I know it's not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified," said de Mistura during his opening address, praising participants for making "progress" to send "inclusive" coalitions.

The liberation of the city of Aleppo and the loss of key territories by Islamist rebels have tipped the balance in the Syrian conflict, as has the changing of the guard in the White House, but the mood in Geneva on Thursday is, nonetheless, cautious, according to RT’s Peter Oliver.

The UN envoy said on Wednesday that, while there is hope, he did not expect a quick resolution on Thursday in Geneva, where the first UN-hosted negotiations between the warring sides in nearly a year are to take place.

“Am I expecting a breakthrough? No, I’m not expecting a breakthrough,” de Mistura admitted at a news conference, after making similar comments in an earlier speech in Munich. “But I am expecting and determined for keeping a very pro-active momentum,” he added.

De Mistura cautioned that grievances are likely to arise in full force.

“Don’t be surprised, if there will be rhetoric statements, and even dismissive statements among them, aggressive ones. They are part of what we should expect,” he said, while asking the media not to jump to conclusions and resort to insulting the talks’ participants.

“We will be aiming at substance,” he stressed.

Disagreements are also expected to arise over the opposition’s continued insistence that the fate of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad be settled as a precondition – something that is not currently on the table.

Meanwhile, Russia announced that it has asked the Syrian government to halt all military operations for the duration of the talks, while other countries were expected to deliver the same message to the rebels.

However, at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, de Mistura expressed disappointment about the lack of clarity coming from Washington on the matter.

“One thing I’m missing at the moment… is a clear US strategy,” he said, adding “where are the United States [on a political solution]? I can’t tell you, because I don’t know.”

The last round of the Geneva talks was broken off nine months ago amid a sharp escalation in hostilities.

The progress recently made in the Kazakh capital of Astana has led to a ceasefire, albeit a tentative one, according to the UN envoy, though he warned attendees in Munich that “even a ceasefire cannot hold too long if there is no political (solution).”

READ MORE: Astana meeting on Syria ‘hopefully good basis for Geneva talks’ - Putin

A recent meeting of the UN Security Council reflected a similar view, predicting that the humanitarian situation “will continue to deteriorate further in the absence of a political solution to the crisis.”

The talks will be guided by UNSC resolution 2254, which aims to create an inclusive government for Syria, and a peace process that would involve a new constitution and free and fair elections.

De Mistura warned “we will be very reluctant to engage in pre-conditions, and in fact I will be refusing them,” though he added that he’s expecting another round of talks, or several more, to be held in Astana, where Russia, Turkey and Iran will try to iron out a humanitarian solution.