By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
The United Nations envoy mediating a resolution to the five-year crisis in Syria said today he aims to convene a new round of intra-Syrian peace talks towards the end of August, and expressed hope that the United States and Russia would make “concrete progress” in order to improve the atmosphere for the resumption of the discussions.
“Today, as you know, we had a meeting in Geneva at the UN premises here with both American and Russian senior officials. The subject was related to the urgent need of progress on the cessation of hostilities, on the humanitarian access, on counter-terrorism and, indeed, political transition,” Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva.
Mr. de Mistura said the meeting coincided with the gathering that took place in Laos between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and United States Secretary of State John Kerry, during which they discussed ways to build on the understanding that had been reached in Moscow last week.
“We have made some progress today frankly, but more details need to be worked out in the next few days, particularly between the American and the Russian side, but we are there to support too,” the Special Envoy said.
“Our aim, and we say it very clearly, is to proceed with the third round of the intra-Syrian talks towards the end of August,” he added.
Previous rounds of talks this year stalled as fighting has escalated in Syria, particularly around Aleppo. More than 280,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011, and millions of people have been forced to flee the country. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it has reports of up to 40 confirmed attacks on health-care facilities across Syria in 2016, and nearly 60 per cent of public hospitals in the country closed or are only partially functional.
The Special Envoy said that progress on the understanding between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov will create the “right atmosphere,” both on the ground and for the intra-Syrian talks.
“This is not a pre-condition, but we all know, we all agree, that if such steps take place, and we hope so, will have indeed a strong positive effect on the environment surrounding the talks,” Mr. de Mistura said.
He noted that in the context of the trilateral meeting today, the UN, as facilitator and mediator, was asked by the co-chairs – Russia and the United States – to continue preparing proposals for addressing “difficult issues” related to the talks, which it would do while preparing for the end of August.
Asked whether the resumption of the peace talks had to wait until the end of August when the situation in Aleppo has worsened, the Special Envoy said the bombing, the rockets and the shelling in central Damascus, and the “horrible events” taking place in hospitals in Aleppo were “very much on the radar screen.”
He expressed the hope that while negotiations are under way to restart the talks, that – “tomorrow, the sooner the better” – the situation in those two war-torn cities could see some improvement.
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