The head of Syrian government delegation has said his team has not been asked to meet face to face with the opposition in the seventh round of UN-mediated indirect talks held in the Swiss city of Geneva.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN and the delegation chief, said the issue of direct talks was something “that has not been raised with us – not directly or indirectly”.
“We have given sufficient explanations to the special envoy about our vision and the way we see this,” Jaafari said on Friday after his final meeting with Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria.
“The most important thing is for us to have a national partner and not a client for a foreign agenda,” he said alluding to foreign backers of the main opposition, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as smaller opposition factions.
Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Geneva, said the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime were close to actual direct talks, but Jaafari said de Mistura was not even entertaining that idea.
“It seems like there was on counterterrorism and how the international community was not doing well when there were coalition strikes on the ground,” she said.
“We are also hearing that the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is not really happy as they see these talks a bit of a sham because at no point has the regime sit around the table with them and discuss anything,” she said, referring to an umbrella body of the Syrian opposition.
A day earlier, de Mistura acknowledged that he was not “pushing” for the opposition and government delegations to meet directly until they could engage in “real” talks.
Later on Friday, de Mistura confirmed the next round of talks were scheduled to take place in September.
“I intend to reconvene the Syria talks again in September and I hope to at least push them to sit in the same room,” he said.
“Both the government and the opposition have been quite willing to outline how they are combating UN designated terrorist entities in Syria.”
De Mistura also reminded all stakeholders to ensure “the fight against terrorism must be accompanied by concrete efforts to protect civilians.”
“It must not be an opportunity to use any type of prohibited weapons.”
He did not expect HNC to unite with two other dissident groupings, the “Moscow” and “Cairo” platforms, in time for direct talks with Syria‘s government during this round.
The Moscow and Cairo platforms each consist a handful of activists and are named after the cities where they first convened, at meetings held with Russia’s approval and support. They do not control territory on the ground or have strong links with armed groups engaged in the war.
This week’s talks were held as a ceasefire was in effect in southwest Syria. It was brokered by the US, which backs the rebels, as well as Russia, which provides military support to President Bashar al-Assad‘s troops. Jordan was also involved in the partial truce deal.
The UN talks are meant to lead to an agreement on a transition government, a new constitution and new elections in the country that has been ravaged by war since 2011.