Food convoy refusal hinders Syria talks

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GENEVA -- Hopes faded Monday for a quick win at peace talks between Syria's warring factions after the Syrian government declined to authorize a convoy of food to enter a besieged neighborhood in the center of the city of Homs under the terms of an agreement brokered by the United Nations.

There was no sign either that a promise to allow women and children to leave was moving forward, calling into question whether progress will be possible on the far more momentous issues that will have to be discussed if the conference is to end Syria's brutal civil war.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi seemed dejected as he briefed reporters on the third day of the peace talks, which have so far succeeded only in exposing the vast gulf dividing the government and opposition delegations. "The discussions haven't produced much, unfortunately," he said.

"We never expected a miracle," he added. "There are no miracles here, but we will continue and see if progress can be made and when."

At Monday's session, the contentious question of what the warring factions hope to achieve at the conference was broached for the first time, with Mr. Brahimi asking the two sides to present their visions for a future Syria.

The government submitted a blueprint for ways to salvage the current Syrian state, fight terrorism and restore territories lost to rebel control; the opposition immediately rejected it. "We didn't even look at it," said Munzer Akbik, an adviser to Syrian Opposition Coalition president Ahmad al-Jarba.

The opposition said it presented a copy of the Geneva I communique, which spells out the conditions under which the conference is being held, as the basis of its proposal. The communique, agreed to by the United States and Russia in June 2012, lays out a framework for resolving the Syria crisis that includes humanitarian measures, a cease-fire and creation of a transitional executive body that would take power away from President Bashar Assad's regime.

Mr. Brahimi and other diplomats have repeatedly warned that the talks could last months if they are to succeed in bridging the differences between those seeking the overthrow of Mr. Assad and those representing his government.

The failure to secure an agreement on humanitarian aid to Homs, intended to be an early goodwill gesture, is raising questions about whether Syria's government will be prepared to compromise on tougher political issues. Residents of the Old City of Homs, where people are in danger of starving after nearly 18 months under siege, said government shelling of the neighborhood intensified after the discussions began on a cease-fire to let aid in.

"We haven't seen any goodwill yet," opposition spokesman Louay Safi said. "So we ask whether the regime is serious about a political transition."

U.S. officials monitoring the Geneva talks also expressed frustration with the lack of progress on access for the convoy, comprising 12 trucks carrying aid and medical supplies. The plan had been discussed before the talks, in the hope of being able to demonstrate early progress, and the convoy has been ready to move for days, diplomats said.


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