Syria regime unsure it will continue Geneva talks: negotiator

Geneva (AFP) –


Syrian government negotiators indicated Friday they might not return to continue peace talks in Geneva following a weekend break, condemning "provocative" statements from the opposition about the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

The regime's chief negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari told reporters in Geneva that his team would go home to Syria on Saturday and that "Damascus will decide" if they will return to the UN-backed talks next Tuesday.

His comments came a day after United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced optimism about the round of peace talks that began on Tuesday, and said he would extend the negotiations for an additional two weeks.

De Mistura told reporters the parties would take a break over the weekend and resume negotiations next Tuesday, with the round of talks expected to last until December 15.

But after meeting with de Mistura Friday, Jaafari said there were "big problems in this round of talks," pointing to comments from the opposition signalling it was maintaining its hard line on Assad's removal.

The opposition, united in one delegation for the first time, has defied calls to give up on its demand that Assad must step down before any peace deal can be reached.

"The language was provocative, irresponsible politically speaking," Jaafari said, warning that if the opposition delegation sticks to such language "there will be no progress."

"Those who want to impose preconditions are unrealistic," he said, pointing to shifting conditions on the ground where the government with Russian military support has made major advances.

"There is a political reality on the ground. We are the strong party," he said.

The government delegation had initially refused to confirm that it would attend the eight round of UN-backed talks at all, and arrived a day late.

The negotiators did finally show up for talks on Wednesday, after reportedly securing key concessions, including keeping Assad's fate off the table.

Syria's six-year war has claimed more than 340,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes and left Syria in ruins.