U.N. blames opposition for delay in Syria talks

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WASHINGTON -- U.S.-Russian plans for a long-delayed summit on Syria appeared to collapse Tuesday, with the United Nations' special envoy to Syria suggesting that the opposition's perpetual disarray was to blame for the failure to begin negotiations on a political settlement to the conflict.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League special envoy, spoke at a news conference in Geneva, where U.S., Russian and U.N. officials met in hopes of a breakthrough that would allow them to announce a date for a "Geneva 2 conference," so called because it builds on an earlier framework for talks to end the war that has raged for more than two years, with a death toll beyond 100,000.

No such agreement was reached, however, and Mr. Brahimi strongly suggested that the onus lay on the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which has been unable to resolve its internal differences and assemble what Mr. Brahimi called a "credible delegation" to meet with members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. Mr. Brahimi said the United States, Russia and the United Nations would meet again Nov. 25 to assess progress after scheduled opposition meetings, though he appeared skeptical of the opposition's ability to do even that. "I don't know whether they'll meet or not," he said.

Using strikingly blunt language for a veteran diplomat, Mr. Brahimi declared the opposition "not ready," adding, "They're divided; it's no secret to anybody."

Still, Mr. Brahimi said he hoped that the conference could materialize before year's end, though he didn't sound optimistic that the longtime sticking points would be resolved. "We did not discover this morning we wouldn't be able to announce it, and the opposition is one of the problems we're facing," a visibly exasperated Mr. Brahimi told reporters.

Gennady Gatilov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, sounded skeptical about the Obama administration's ability to help the opposition build a delegation. "We felt that the U.S. does not have enough leverage to consolidate the opposition," he said, according to the Voice of Russia radio station.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf said only that discussions were ongoing, and that no date had been set for Geneva 2. Days ago, State Department officials said they expected the conference to happen in mid-November.

Analysts who monitor the Syrian civil war have long said the Geneva summit was unlikely to take place. Part of the problem is the two sides disagree on what the goal of the talks should be. The opposition says it is to form a transitional government that would not include Assad, while the Assad government says there should be no preconditions to the talks.

But a major aspect is that conditions on the ground don't encourage either side to come to the table. The Assad government, which now has the upper hand on the battlefield, has little incentive to bargain, while the U.S.-recognized opposition carries an enormous political risk as well as the threat of retaliation from armed groups that have declared participation in Geneva 2 an act of treason.

Syrian Opposition Coalition leader Ahmed Jarba said Tuesday that the group had decided not to participate in Geneva 2 without assurances of "its success as a process of transfer of power with all its components and institutions and organs," according to a statement issued by the coalition.



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