Syrian peace talks in Moscow end in disarray

Syrian peace talks ended in acrimony with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress

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Talks between the Syrian government and the opposition ended in acrimony Friday with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.

The Russian mediator of the weeklong meeting, Vitaly Naumkin, said the parties agreed on a document assessing the political situation in the country, but then failed to reach accord on confidence-building measures.

Some of the participants later reversed their support for the initially agreed document because of a failure to agree on moves to improve mutual trust, such as prisoners' release, said Naumkin, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for Eastern Studies.

“If we spent another week here, we would probably reach agreement on other issues,” Naumkin said at a briefing. “They sat at the table together, they didn’t go into a fistfight, they listened to each other. It’s good.”

Moscow arranged the negotiations in a bid to raise its international profile at a time of bitter tensions with the West over Ukraine. The meeting followed the first round of Moscow-hosted talks in January.

“We didn’t have any excessive expectations, we didn’t expect the meeting to settle the Syrian crisis,” Naumkin said, adding that there was no immediate plan for hosting the next round of talks.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, refused to attend the Moscow talks amid the deep distrust of Russia’s intentions.

Russia has staunchly backed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government throughout the country’s civil war, now in its fifth year, which has killed more than 220,000 people and has turned nearly 4 million into refugees.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s U.N. envoy who represented the Syrian government in the negotiations, sought to cast them as a success, hailing the initially agreed document. He tried to downplay some of the opposition representatives reversing their support for it.

“The government and the opposition managed to reach common ground on a number of important issues,” he said at a news conference. Jaafari denied the opposition accusation that the government side was trying to drag out the talks to avoid discussing sensitive issues.

The public spat followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with the negotiators on Thursday, when he strongly urged the parties to reach a compromise to stem the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist groups in the region.

“You need to save the country and its people, or there will be no one left to build a renewed, united and sovereign Syria,” Lavrov said.

He argued that the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS has failed to reach its goals, and criticized Washington for training some of the rebels, saying it would only fuel the conflict.