Another round of negotiation talks between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime kicked off in Geneva yesterday amid hopes of reaching a peaceful solution to the Syrian civil war.
The PKK's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has not been invited to attend the talks and will not be represented at the summit, despite asserting that it is a party to the Syrian conflict. Turkey considers the PYD a terrorist group and Ankara says the PYD poses a national security threat along its southern border.
Agreements reached in previous rounds of talks between the warring sides will be discussed in the scope of a four-part agenda. However, no progress has yet been made on any topic.
The two sides, under immense pressure from international backers, have agreed to discuss a new constitution, reformed system of governance, new elections and the fight against terrorism but differ sharply over what the agenda items mean.
The U.N.'s special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura confirmed the arrival of Assad's negotiator Bashar al-Ja'afari in Geneva with an 18-strong negotiating delegation "empowered for serious discussions."
Mistura denied that the U.N. was being used as a diplomatic smokescreen for more war. "If being a mediator and trying to find common points [means] ‘being used,' I would accept that. The alternative is no discussion, no hope, no political horizon, just waiting for facts on the ground to take place," de Mistura told reporters.
"Facts on the ground," the U.N.'s jargon for "war," will not produce a political solution to the intractable conflict which all sides had committed, he said.
Meanwhile, opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri told reporters he wanted a comprehensive ceasefire across Syria.
"The road to Syria's freedom runs through Geneva," he said.
"That's why we have come here to Geneva, committed to negotiating towards a political solution and that's why Assad is frightened of this process. He is afraid to engage with the agenda of a political solution."
De Mistura said the U.S., which has supported the opposition in the past, is becoming increasingly engaged and interested in the process, hinting at high-level diplomacy going on behind the scenes.
The Geneva round of talks comes on the heels of a deal reached between Russia, Turkey and Iran to arrange and monitor "de-escalation zones" in Syria to ease the fighting. The plan to establish "de-escalation zones" in Syria came into effect at midnight on May 5. Russian military officials said the plan, which was agreed to in Syria talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana on May 4, envisions the establishment of four safe zones that could bring relief for hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians and encourage refugees to return.
Russia, Turkey and Iran are to enforce the zones but Russian general staff official Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said Friday that other countries could participate. However, he did not elaborate on who those countries might be.