‘Accusations And Acrimony’ At Start Of Talks On Syria

Peace talks that it’s hoped might some day bring an end to the civil war in Syria began Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland.

But as NPR’s Steve Inskeep said on Morning Edition, they started with “diplomats making public statements filled with accusations and acrimony” — not a good sign.

From Montreux, NPR’s Deborah Amos told Steve that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “indicted the Assad regime.” What began as relatively peaceful protests in March 2011, Kerry told delegates, escalated into a civil war that has led to the deaths of an estimated 130,000 people so far. Kerry placed the blame squarely on President Bashar Assad and his government.

Then, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem “dramatically repeated the regime’s narrative — that this is a war on terrorism,” Deborah said. He went on “to call out Turkey. … He said the Turks have blood on their hands because they are responsible for arming these ‘terrorists.’ “

The foreign minister also accused the Syrian opposition of being traitors who have sold themselves to Israel, Deborah added. It was “the most explosive moment” of the talks’ first day.

Ahmed Jabra, head of the opposition’s delegation to the conference, “asked a simple question,” Deborah said: “Who do you believe?”

After this opening day of heated words, the two sides are due to sit down across from each other on Friday in Geneva. The talks have been brokered by the U.N., Russia and the U.S.

“Is there, behind the scenes … some sense of common ground?” Steve asked.

“No, there is not,” Deborah bluntly answered.

The only possibilities, she added, are an agreement on a ceasefire — not an end to the civil war — and the opening of some corridors to allow aid groups to get much-needed food, medicine and other necessities to refugees.

The headlines from other news outlets underscore how rough the opening day was:

– “Syria peace talks kick off on a war footing in Switzerland.” (CBS News)

– “Syrian peace talks stuck over Assad’s future.” (The Washington Post)

– “Sharp divisions come to fore as peace talks on Syria begin.” (The New York Times)

– “Syria peace conference … begins with bitter speeches.” (BBC News)

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