U.N. cancels round of Syria peace talks, plans to resume Wednesday

GENEVA — The United Nations canceled a scheduled afternoon round of Syria peace talks Tuesday after a second consecutive day of apparent stalemate and angry exchanges between government officials and representatives of the U.S.-backed opposition bloc.

Negotiations were to resume Wednesday, Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief U.N. mediator, told reporters.

“Nobody is walking out,” Brahimi said, after a fourth day of face-to-face meetings between the two rival camps. “Nobody is running away.”

He said he hoped for a “better session” Wednesday.

Syrian government officials Tuesday were incensed at reports that the Obama administration had resumed sending arms to rebels. Damascus accused Washington of aiding “terrorists” and seeking to undermine the peace talks, an allegation refuted by the Obama administration.

“Any notion that we support terrorists is ludicrous,” Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement distributed to reporters. “We are doing our utmost to help these talks move forward.”

U.S. officials, meantime, lashed out at the government of President Bashar Assad for not providing humanitarian aid to civilians trapped in the war-ravaged city of Homs and elsewhere. Syrian officials say they are awaiting assurances that rebel snipers in Homs will not fire on aid convoys.

The exchange of vitriol between Syrian and U.S. officials unfolded outside the context of the official talks in Geneva, but appears to have contributed to an atmosphere of tension. The opposition delegation is coordinating its actions closely with a U.S. diplomatic contingent headed by Robert S. Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria.

As has been the case, each side issued statements Tuesday blaming the other for impeding negotiations. The U.S.-backed opposition bloc says the Syrian government does not want to discuss a transfer of power from Assad.

The opposition contingent views Assad’s removal as the main purpose of the talks. The government says Assad’s future is not up for negotiation.

The conference’s one tangible outcome — an accord on relief for hundreds trapped in Homs -- still had not resulted in aid for people in the city as of late Tuesday. A convoy with food and other much-needed supplies had yet to enter the besieged Old City and civilians had not yet been allowed to leave, officials said. Security concerns and deep mistrust between government officials and rebels in Homs appeared to be behind the delay.

“We haven’t given up on that," Brahimi said of the Homs relief plan, adding that he was not discouraged by a lack of progress in the talks.

“We have not achieved any breakthrough, but we are still at it,” the U.N. mediator said. “And this is good enough as far as I’m concerned.”


Twitter: @mcdneville

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