01/30/2014, 00.00
SYRIA - UNITED NATIONS
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Geneva II: No 'substantive' result, but Brahimi remains hopeful

The UN and the Arab League Special Envoy for Syria admits little progress has been made but the "'Ice is breaking". The two sides end their first talks tomorrow by agreeing to meet after a week. The UN and Syrian authorities are discussing the possible evacuation of neighbourhoods under siege in Homs. The number of foreign terrorists is growing.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The first round of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition have not achieved "anything substantive," said yesterday Lakhdar Brahimi, UN and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria. However, "The ice is breaking, slowly, but it is breaking," he said after a fifth day of talks in Geneva.

Acknowledging that nothing substantive had come out of the initial round, he insisted that he was "not disappointed". Getting the parties talking was in itself an important step forward.

Representatives of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian National Council (SNC) will meet today and tomorrow. Further talks will resume after week, the UN and Arab League Special Envoy said.

In five days of meetings, the regime and the opposition discussed a prisoner release and the opening of a humanitarian corridor to the city of Homs, but squared off on a transitional body without Assad.

Yet, "For the first time now we are talking about the transitional governing body," Brahimi said. At the same time, he noted, the UN and Syrian government are negotiating access for a humanitarian aid convoy to the besieged city of Homs.

Brahimi also voiced hope that Russia and the US would exert greater influence over the two sides to help bridge that gap.

Despite questions about the timeframe and the effectiveness of any agreement, he was hopeful "that the second session will be more structured and hopefully more productive than the first session".

One of the stumbling blocks is the fact that for the SNC, any transitional governing body cannot include Assad. Conversely, for the Syrian government, the SNC is not representative and any deal with it would not cut off the rebels' money supply. Indeed, Syria slammed the US government after it recently decided to resume supplying non-lethal weapons to the rebels.

Following the talks on Wednesday morning, Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said they would discuss the Geneva communiqué "paragraph by paragraph".

She said the first issue the government wanted to discuss was the first issue in the document, "stopping terrorism".

Meanwhile, US spy chief James Clapper warned about the growing number of foreign fighters in Syria, which "has become a huge magnet for extremists," including hundreds from Europe.

The Syrian militant group tied to al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, includes thousands of them.

About 26,000 fighters, he explained, are deemed "extremists" out of a total opposition force of 75,000 fighters lined up against Assad.

Mr Clapper said that their presence in Syria was of "tremendous concern" to the US and its European allies.

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