Syria Talks Shrouded in Uncertainty

Syria Talks Shrouded in UncertaintySyria Talks Shrouded in Uncertainty

The United Nations said on Friday it expects Syria peace talks in Geneva to begin later in the day, despite uncertainty over whether key opposition groups would attend.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura “will start by meeting the government’s delegation today (Friday)” headed by Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, the UN said in a statement, AFP reported.

“He will continue meetings with other participants in the talks and with representatives of the civil society subsequently,” the UN said. “As indicated by Mr. de Mistura in his press conference on 25 January, these will be proximity talks, meaning that the parties will be meeting with him separately.”

Despite Western pressure the main opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), has yet to decide whether to come to Geneva and was holding a fourth day of talks in Saudi Arabia on Friday. On Thursday the Saudi-backed HNC, formed only last month, said it would not take part before an agreement is reached on aid reaching hundreds of thousands of people stuck in besieged towns.

The HNC has also asked for “clarifications” after the UN issued invitations to other opposition figures. The HNC and its Saudi and Turkish backers have objected to the participation of Syrian Kurdish groups that have made key advances against Islamic State terrorists in northern Syria in recent months.

The planned talks are the biggest push to date to end a five-year-old conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, driven millions from their homes and facilitated the meteoric rise of IS.