Big powers fail to set new date for Syria peace talks

The main Syrian opposition said it was not willing to return to talks without a full ceasefire and access for humanitarian aid

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Major power foreign ministers failed to agree a new date to resume Syrian peace talks at a meeting on Tuesday, and the opposition said it would not come back to Geneva negotiations unless conditions improved on the ground.

A pessimistic atmosphere pervaded the meeting in Vienna between countries that support President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies, all of which have committed to reviving a ceasefire and peace process that have been unravelling since last month.

In a joint statement after the meeting attended by the United States, European and Middle East powers that oppose Assad as well as Russia and Iran which support him, the powers called for a full cessation of hostilities and access for aid.

In stronger language than in the past, they warned the warring factions that if they repeatedly broke the truce they risked forgoing the protection of the Feb. 27 cessation of hostilities agreement sponsored by Washington and Moscow.

They also directed the UN’s World Food Program to air drop food, medicine and water to besieged communities starting on June 1 if humanitarian access was denied by either side.

But they did not agree on a date for peace talks to resume.

Saudi on ‘Plan B’ on Syria

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that if President Assad did not abide with efforts to establish a truce across Syria country, alternatives would need to be looked at.


“We believe we should have moved to a ‘Plan B’ a long time ago,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after a meeting of foreign governments in Vienna.

“The choice about moving to an alternative plan, the choice about intensifying the military support (to the opposition) is entirely with the Bashar regime. If they do not respond to the treaties of the international community...then we will have to see what else can be done.”

The Geneva talks broke up last month after the opposition delegation quit, accusing the government of ignoring the ceasefire, and recent weeks saw an intensification of fighting, particularly near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told a news conference there was still a strong desire to keep the peace process moving.

“We want to keep the momentum. The exact date, I am not at the moment revealing it because it will depend also on other facts,” he said. He noted that the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in early June, was coming soon.

The main opposition High Negotiations Committee said it was not willing to return to negotiations without a full ceasefire and access for humanitarian aid.

“I don’t think there will be results, and if there are any results they will not be sufficient for the Syrian people,” HNC chief negotiator Asaad al-Zoubi told Reuters ahead of Tuesday’s Vienna meeting. “The HNC has said that if aid does not reach everybody, if the sieges aren’t lifted and if a full truce does not happen, there will be no negotiations.”

After Tuesday’s meetings, the opposition said the powers had rebuked Assad by demanding that aid should reach towns his forces were blockading.

“The Vienna Communiqué listed towns where our fellow Syrians are starving under siege and crying out for humanitarian access,” HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet said in a statement. “Assad is not only blockading those towns, but also blocking the path to a political solution, which is the only way to end the suffering.”

But HNC member Bassama Kodmani told Reuters the powers must do more to silence the guns: “We cannot be bombed while we’re talking about a peaceful arrangement and a peaceful transition.”

Local truces in individual areas, which have been attempted in recent weeks, would not be a solution. “Peace talks cannot take place while one front is burning and another is quiet,” she said.

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