Fri Mar 31, 2017 8:28PM
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures during a press conference following the fifth round of UN-sponsored Syria peace talks in Geneva on March 31, 2017. (Photos by AFP)
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures during a press conference following the fifth round of UN-sponsored Syria peace talks in Geneva on March 31, 2017. (Photos by AFP)

The United Nations says “incremental progress” has been made during the fifth round of the Geneva peace negotiations on Syria, while the Syrian delegation believes the UN-backed negotiations yielded no progress on ending the country's six-year-long war.

“I believe I can speak on behalf of all who participate that we must maintain this incremental progress on the political process, even if only incremental,” said the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on Friday, after wrapping up an eight-day round of peace talks between the Syrian government and foreign-backed armed opposition groups in the Swiss city of Geneva.

De Mistura further acknowledged that there were “serious challenges” facing the negotiations and that no imminent peace deal was foreseeable.

However, Syria's Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja'afari, who also heads the Syrian government’s delegation to the talks, said no progress was made in the negotiations, mocking the opposition negotiators as “adolescents” who thought they were appearing on a television talent show such as the “Arab Idol” or “The Voice.”

“In fact they are tools, they are mercenaries in the hands of their lords, their operators, and it seems they have not received instructions from them, except instructions to continue supporting terrorism and to create havoc in these rounds,” the Syrian diplomat told reporters at a press conference after the conclusion of the talks.

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari gestures as he speaks during a press conference following a meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura during the Syria peace talks in Geneva on March 31, 2017.

Ja’afari, however, said that during the previous eight days, he had discussed with de Mistura the four baskets of reformed governance, constitution, elections, and countering terrorism, adding that the two sides stressed the need to establish a working group.

He also noted that an agreement had been made to continue diplomatic efforts to set a date for the upcoming intra-Syrian dialog, reiterating that the future of Syria would only be decided by its people and that Damascus would not allow any foreign interference in determining the country's future.

The two sides did not have face-to-face meetings in the five rounds of talks under de Mistura’s auspices since early 2016. He has presided over all those rounds.

On Thursday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that the priority for the White House was no longer ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The remarks were a significant departure from the position of the former US government, which made any resolution of the Syria crisis conditional on President Assad stepping down. Haley’s remarks were also echoed by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Ja'afari reacted to Haley’ comments on Friday, saying that she was new and needed time to “digest and metabolize” the reality of the Geneva talks and complementary ceasefire talks, mediated by Iran, Russia and Turkey, in the Kazakh capital Astana.

“The future of Syrians will be determined only by the Syrians, not by the US or any other ambassador,” the Syrian envoy added.