Peace envoy calls for fresh talks on Syria

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

The United Nations-backed peace envoy called Sunday for talks in a new bid to end Syria's bloodshed, but deep distrust between both sides in the conflict casts doubt on the likelihood of meaningful dialogue.

Negotiations between the Syrian opposition and an “acceptable delegation” from the government of President Bashar Assad “will be a beginning to exit the dark tunnel which Syria has entered,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, special peace envoy for the U.N. and the Arab League.

Speaking in Cairo, Brahimi said talks could commence at an unspecified U.N. site.

But there is no date set for negotiations and no clear idea of who would be deemed “acceptable” participants.

Moreover, the central issue — the fate of Assad's government — remains in dispute, and neither side seems inclined to budge.

The opposition insists any talks must result in the removal of Assad and his security leadership.

The government rejects any such “precondition,” but has itself seemed to rule out talks with armed opponents it dubs “terrorists,” and with exile leaders labeled “puppets” of the West.

To date, each side seems to view negotiations as an alternate route to victory, rather than as a compromise-laden path to peace and reconstruction in a nation devastated by almost two years of conflict.

“Both the opposition and the regime remain determined to defeat the enemy,” noted Peter Harling, Middle East project director with the International Crisis Group, a think tank that works on conflict resolution.

Still, the urgent push for peace talks — a goal now nominally supported by both warring parties and their respective external allies — highlights how the Syria debate has shifted.

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