A week of talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition National Coalition in Geneva ended on Friday without tangible results, Syrian Minister Walid Muallem told reporters.
Muallem blamed a “lack of maturity and seriousness” on the part of the rival delegation, which he claimed had sought to “implode” the peace negotiations.
“They acted as if we had wanted to come here for one hour and hand over everything to them. It’s indicative of the illusions that they are living under,” he said.
Muallem spoke after U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said he aimed to bring the two sides back to the table for a new round of talks from February 10.
Brahimi had told reporters that while the opposition agreed, the government delegation had informed him that it wanted time to consult with Damascus first.
Muallem said President Bashar al-Assad and his government would first read the delegation’s report then make a decision on the next step, with the negotiators returning if the public demanded it.
Both the regime and opposition spar over who truly speaks in the name of Syrians, with the government claiming the rebels are the plaything of the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.
“We represent the concerns and the interests of our people,” Muallem insisted.
“We are a country. We have our government, our institutions. We are willing to discuss, but for that we have to know the identity of the other side: are they Syrians or are they not?”
Syrian opposition chief dismissed the failure of the talks, saying it was a success in itself to be holding negotiations with a regime which for long has claimed that it is the sole representative of the Syrian people.
“The regime has fallen in the same trap that it has set up for us and it is walking in its own funeral. By talking to us, the regime acknowledges that it is not the sole representative of the Syrian people,” SNC chief Ahmad al-Jarba said.
He noted that the opposition would attend the second round of the talks despite what he said was “a lack of serious engagement “ on the part of Assad’s delegation.
Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 after a regime crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests.
It morphed into a sectarian-tinged civil war which has claimed over 130,000 lives and driven millions from their homes, sparking a devastating humanitarian crisis.
The Geneva talks marked the first time Syria’s warring sides had sat down together since the war began.
They revolved around the so-called Geneva I communique, drawn up by an international conference in 2012 in the Swiss city which did not involve both sides in the war, and where world powers called for a negotiated political transition in Syria.
“Geneva I as a communique was formulated in the absence of the Syrians,” Muallem said, noting that interpretations of its content diverged.
A key gap is over the future of Assad, who the opposition insists must go right away and deserves to be tried by the Syrian people over his regime’s abuses.
Ziad Abu Hamdan, member of the Syrian National Coalition, said the regime’s delegation rejected an idea to establish a transitional authority in which members of the Syrian regime will not participate.
The regime insists that the issue of the president is a red line.
“The forefront of our concerns is combatting terrorism,” Muallem added, saying the opposition was “completely detached from what is happening in Syria.”
Damascus, pointing to ultra-Islamist Syrian and foreign fighters within the rebel ranks, slaps a “terrorist” label on the opposition, which counters that it is itself fighting the jihadists and claims there is regime complicity with the hardliners.
International powers backing the Syrian opposition blamed the government for the failure to make headway at peace talks in Geneva.
The Friends of Syria, an alliance of mainly Western and Gulf Arab countries, met in Geneva on Friday, shortly after the first round of talks ended, and called on Assad not to obstruct further rounds of talks.
“The regime is responsible for the lack of real progress in the first round of negotiations. It must not further obstruct substantial negotiations and it must engage constructively in the second round of negotiations,” the group said in a statement.