'Golden opportunity' missed for progress on intra-Syrian talks, says UN envoy

14 December 2017 – A “golden opportunity” has been missed to decide the future of Syria at the end of the latest round of United Nations-supported talks in Geneva, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday.

Mr. de Mistura was speaking to journalists in the Swiss city where he has been meeting Syrian Government representatives and –for the first time – a united opposition delegation.

He added that he was disappointed at the Government's lack of engagement on any issue other than counter-terrorism, before adding that he intended to call a new round of talks in January.

One of the main goals of this eighth round of Intra-Syria talks in Geneva was to get the still-warring parties to consider a new constitution for the war-ravaged country and UN-backed elections.

The opposition delegation had engaged on these issues – and others – with UN negotiator Staffan de Mistura, he told journalists.

But the Syrian Government representatives chose to focus solely on fighting terrorism, prompting the UN envoy to point out: “A big missed opportunity, a golden opportunity at the end of this year, when in fact there is a clear indication from many sides that the military operations are coming to a close, the Da'esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL] territory is reduced to close to zero.”

Mr. de Mistura went on to say that at the same time “everybody knows […] that without a clear political process we risk to not have learned the lesson of Mosul, and we risk to not have what should be winning the peace not only winning the war against Da'esh.”

While the talks have been taking place in Geneva, the dire humanitarian situation inside parts of Syria has remained unchanged – particularly in Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus.

Mr. de Mistura said he had spoken to the Government delegation about the need to evacuate hundreds of sick people from the besieged area on medical grounds, but he failed to get a “satisfactory” answer from them.

While acknowledging that this round of discussions with the parties had not seen the progress he would have liked, the UN envoy insisted that the Geneva talks had given an opportunity to hear from Syrian civil society, including the Women's Advisory Board.

He maintained that his efforts to secure peace in the country will continue, until those with the power to stop the fighting realized that there can be no reconstruction in Syria – devastated as it is by nearly seven years of war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives – without a political process and UN-backed elections.