GENEVA – Playing down expectations, the U.N. envoy for Syria said Wednesday that he's not expecting a breakthrough in the first U.N.-mediated peace talks between government representatives and the opposition in 10 months, rather hoping to build momentum toward peace after nearly six years of war.
Staffan de Mistura spoke a day before convening the two sides amid a recent cease-fire that has largely held and recent battlefield gains by President Bashar Assad's forces. The envoy warned of unspecified "spoilers" who could try to scuttle his efforts to end a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead.
"We want to give a chance to the Syrian people, the Syrian parties, to try to have some type of dialogue leading more just beyond a conflict," he told reporters. De Mistura said he was "determined" to maintain "a very proactive momentum" in the talks, which will focus on new elections, a new constitution and governance.
"I am not expecting a breakthrough," but wants to maintain "a very proactive momentum," he said. "I am convinced it will be worthwhile. We are going to give it a serious try."
De Mistura said recent diplomatic efforts by Russia, a key supporter of Assad's government, and Turkey, which supports the opposition factions, that led to a fragile cease-fire in Syria had helped support the political process. He said Russia had indicated earlier Wednesday that it had asked Assad's government to "silence their own skies in areas touched by the cease-fire during the intra-Syrian talks."
The envoy said bilateral talks would start Thursday morning, and said it remained to be seen whether the two sides would sit down face-to-face — which didn't happen in three previous rounds of failed talks under his guidance last year. He also did not indicate how long he expected the new round to continue.
"I'm not expecting an immediate breakthrough from this negotiation, but the beginning of a series of rounds that will be able to go much more in depth into the substantive issues," he said.