Syria crisis talks remain deadlocked
Crisis talks at the United Nations aimed at finding a political resolution to end the violence in Syria remain deadlocked, with the British foreign secretary, William Hague, warning of areas of "difficulty and difference" in the negotiations.
Hopes had been raised in recent days that the conference in Geneva, which was called by the Arab League and UN joint special envoy Kofi Annan, was the best opportunity to find a peaceful solution to an escalating conflict that has claimed more than 15,000 lives, but overnight US and Russia remained divided over the same key issues.
After preparatory talks on Friday ahead of the arrival of foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the security council and Arab states, diplomats were deadlocked over the negotiating text to agree on guidelines and principles for "a Syria-led transition".
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had held talks in Moscow on her way to Geneva with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in the hope of finding a breakthrough.
At the heart of the deadlock is the insistence of Russia, which is Syria's most important ally, that Syrians alone should be master of their fate, ruling out an internationally imposed solution.
"There is an opportunity for the international community to be much stronger and act more robustly but we can only do it with the agreement of Russia and China," Hague said as he arrived for the meeting.
"It has always been our view that a stable future for Syria, a stable political process means [President] Assad leaving power as part of an agreement on transitional process," Hague said.
The draft negotiating text for the talks calls for the establishment of a transitional government of national unity with full executive powers, which could include members of Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
The stumbling block in reaching an agreement is what happens to Assad. Syria's deeply divided opposition is agreed on one thing – that it is not prepared to participate in a political transition that includes him.
While the negotiating text envisages the exclusion "from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation" it is not clear what this would mean for Assad and whether he might remain during a transitional period.
Some diplomats have said this wording is an implicit reference to the need for Assad's exclusion from any future transitional arrangements.
"Ultimately, we want to stop the bloodshed in Syria. If that comes through political dialogue, we are willing to do that," said Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups in Istanbul, Turkey.
"We are not willing to negotiate [with] Mr Assad and those who have murdered Syrians. We are not going to negotiate unless they leave Syria."
Although Lavrov had predicted the meeting had a "good chance" of finding a way forward, after a dinner with Clinton before travelling to Switzerland, Russia continued to insist that outsiders could not order a political solution for Syria. The US is adamant that Assad should not be allowed to remain in power at the top of the transitional government.
Despite the difficulties facing the talks, Lavrov said on Friday he felt that there had been movement in the US attitude in the negotiations. He told reporters: "I felt a change in Hillary Clinton's position. There were not ultimatums. Not a word was said that the document we will discuss in Geneva is untouchable."Resources: Syria crisis talks remain deadlocked
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