U.N. envoy urges Obama, Putin to save Syria truce, peace process

The United Nations mediator on Thursday called on the leaders of the United States and the Russian Federation to salvage the “barely alive” two-month-old ceasefire in Syria and revitalize the damaged peace process.

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced deep concern at the truce unraveling in Aleppo and at least three other hotspots, although he saw some narrowing of positions between the government and opposition visions of political transition.

“Hence my appeal for a U.S.-Russian urgent initiative at the highest level, because the legacy of both President Obama and President Putin is linked to the success of what has been a unique initiative which started very well. It needs to end very well,” de Mistura told a news conference.

The United States and Russia must convene a ministerial meeting of major and regional powers who compose the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), he said.

“There is no reason that both of them which have been putting so much political capital in that success story and have a common interest in not seeing Syria ending up in another cycle of war should not be able to revitalize what they have created and which is still alive but barely.”

The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) pulled out of the formal talks a week ago, in protest of intensified fighting and slow aid deliveries.

“How can you have substantial talks when you have only news about bombing and shelling? It’s something that even I find it difficult, can you imagine the Syrians?” de Mistura said, adding he aimed to resume talks in May, though he gave no date.

Bashar Ja’afari, who led the government delegation, said on Tuesday the round had been “useful and constructive.” But he gave no sign of ceding to the HNC’s central demand for a political transition without President Bashar al-Assad.

De Mistura, asked whether Assad’s future was discussed, replied: “We didn’t get into names of people… but actually how to change the current governance. And I must say that the concept of a new government and a political transition with a new constitution is quite a lot already in terms of preparing of what could be the next steps.”

He issued a document saying the two sides remain far apart in their vision of a political transition, but shared some “commonalities,” including the view “that the transitional governance could include members of the present government and the opposition, independents and others.”

De Mistura said this round of talks had been “overshadowed by a substantial and indeed worrisome of cessation of hostilities.”

“The perception is that it could collapse any time,” he said.

In the past 48 hours there had been an average of 1 Syrian civilian killed every 25 minutes and one wounded every 13 minutes, he said.

The latest victims included “the last pediatric doctor” in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, killed in an air strike on a hospital on Wednesday, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Shadia Nasralla; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Leslie Adler)



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