UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Thursday he hopes to launch ‘real, substantive’ peace talks in October, after the opposition has had time to develop a more pragmatic negotiating strategy.
De Mistura has previously hosted seven rounds of largely unsuccessful talks, with the fate of President Bashar al-Assad standing out as a main obstacle to progress.
The United Nations envoy wants to see the Saudi-backed opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) -- which has insisted on Assad's ouster -- unite with two more moderate opposition camps, who have a softer line on the Syrian president's future.
The opposition ‘does require more time in order to come up (with) a more inclusive and perhaps even a more pragmatic approach,’ de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.
Discussions among the opposition factions are ongoing, but there may be a key meeting in the coming weeks where the sides formally reorganise their delegation ahead of face-to-face talks with the Syrian government, de Mistura said.
He added that there is ‘major opportunity for the opposition to take stock of the realities on the ground (and) take stock of their own need to be unified.’
An HNC official confirmed the internal opposition talks and said one of the moderate factions, known as the Cairo Platform, was due in the Saudi capital this week for further discussions.
Rebel fighters have suffered heavy territorial losses since peace talks to end the war began, including the regime's recapture of Aleppo, a former opposition stronghold.
With the rebel fighting position weakened, experts say the regime faces no pressure to make concessions at the negotiating table, and especially not over the question of Assad's future.
De Mistura said he may still try to organise another ‘preparatory’ round of talks in Geneva next month, as initially planned, but stressed that his office ‘will be focusing on the real agenda for the real substantive talks that we hope will be taking place in October.’
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