New UN-Backed Talks on Syrian Conflict

The United Nations renewed efforts on Tuesday to restart peace talks in Geneva over the Syrian conflict. Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will hold closed-door consultations with the parties involved in the conflict. The talks will begin next week.

De Mistura explained the UN plan in a news conference today:

Soundbite: We therefore begin now, based on the instruction from the secretary general, a series of separate one-to-one, I repeat, one-to-one structured discussions with as many actors involved in the Syrian conflict as possible in order to get a sense of whether another round of negotiations is feasible down the line, and what a future, peaceful Syria may look like.

Participants will include more than 40 Syrian groups, the Syrian government, and 20 regional and international representatives. The Islamic State was not invited because the UN deemed it a terrorist organization.

De Mistura said these “were not peace talks.” A UN statement said de Mistura will lead the talks, which are expected to last five or six weeks. He hopes to know by June 30 if restarting peace negotiations in Geneva will be possible.

The UN confirmed on Tuesday that Iran will take part in these consultations. Some Syrian opposition groups expressed anger at Iran’s invitation. Iran is a key ally of the Syrian government and its president, Bashar Assad. Iran did not participate in the two previous failed talks in Geneva.

The first Geneva peace conference was held in June 2012 and ended with a framework agreement that was never implemented. The second conference, held in January 2014 and called Geneva ii, ended without any agreement.

Over 200,000 have died from the Syrian conflict since it began in March 2011. Over 4 million Syrians are registered as refugees.