High-level Russian and US diplomats have promised to help keep Syria peace talks alive in Geneva as they reached a deadlock, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman “promised that they will help both here and in their capitals, to unblock the situation for us,” Brahimi told reporters on Thursday, according to the AFP news agency, following a meeting with the two diplomats.
“Until now, we are not making much progress in the process,” Brahimi said, acknowledging that “failure is always staring at us in the face.”
That meeting came after Syria’s warring sides spent days in Geneva trading blame for the violence ravaging their country and endlessly restating their positions.
Brahimi stressed though that “as far as the United Nations is concerned, we will certainly not leave one stone unturned if there is a possibility to move forward.”
The talks that began on January 22 were initiated by Washington, which backs the opposition, and Moscow, a key ally of the Syrian government.
Asked whether there had been any change in the attitudes of the two sides since then, Brahimi said the delegations “are a little bit more familiar with the presence of the other side.”
“I don’t think any friendships have developed yet,” he added. “We’re still looking for the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Soaring death toll
In the meantime, a spike in fighting between the Syrian government and opposition forces has sent the country’s death toll soaring.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday reported that at least 51 people were killed a day earlier in Aleppo alone – mostly civilians in air raids targeting opposition-controlled areas. Dozens more were killed in the south.
The Observatory has reported an average of 236 people killed daily since the so-called Geneva 2 peace talks began in late January, bringing regime and opposition representatives to the negotiating table but producing no concrete results.
In Switzerland, the opposition National Coalition laid out a transition plan, including evicting foreign fighters and a process towards elections, the AFP news agency reported.
But the government refused to discuss it, saying the first item on the agenda was the battle against rebel “terrorism”.
Meanwhile, Russia has presented draft UN Security Council resolutions on humanitarian aid access and the fight against “terrorism” in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.
Moscow’s calls for a resolution are in tune with rhetoric from Damascus, which uses the term to describe all those fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
“Terrorism is certainly no less acute a problem [than the humanitarian crisis],” Lavrov told a news conference after talks with his Egyptian counterpart.
Moscow earlier this week confirmed it would reject a Western-Arab draft resolution on humanitarian aid access in Syria in its existing form, saying it was biased against the government of Assad.
The latest daily death tolls in Syria have been the highest since the civil war began nearly three years ago, while hundreds of thousands more people have been displaced by the violence.