The long awaited peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition backed by the U.S. and other allies started rocky on Friday as talks face to face were cancelled and a mediator from the U.N. met with the opposing sides in separate rooms.
A number of reports indicated that the delegation that opposes President Bashar al-Assad balked at the meeting with the delegation from the government until the representatives from the government explicitly signed on to the final goal of creating a transitional Syrian government, which is one of the conference’s goals.
The opposition, based in exile, backed by the U.S. and allies, wants assurances that are iron clad that Assad would give up his power as part of any agreement to bring peace.
The president of Syria, who has Russia as a close ally said he will no step down. The simple disagreement has cast a large shadow over the diplomatic efforts made to start negotiations to end the conflict in Syria that is nearly three year old.
The government of Syria said its team of negotiators would return to Syria unless talks started by Saturday.
The special envoy in the U.N. Lakhdar Brahimi is said to be in talks separately behind closed doors with each side at the headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva.
The veteran mediator previously expressed his concerns over initially placing both sides in one room, given the antagonism evident in their public statements.
It was not clear if officials from the U.N. could succeed in bringing the two teams of negotiators together Friday or in the following days.
The failure initially to arrange talks face to face underscored the inherent difficulties in the peace process.
The conference started on Wednesday in Montreux with each of the sides and their supporters launching verbal barrages at their opposition. The biting comments to open the talks and the hostility each side has did not bode well to have a successful outcome.
U.S., Russia and U.N. diplomats, who have worked close to eight months to have these talks, remain hopeful that one side or the other will not walk out and that these talks results in some sort of progress.