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Weeklong Syria peace talks fruitless

An anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been

An anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians inspect the rubble of destroyed buildings following a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: AP

UNITED NATIONS -- A week's worth of talks to end the civil war in Syria -- a nearly three-year conflict that has claimed up to 130,000 lives and displaced millions of people -- probably won't yield "anything substantive," said the UN and Arab League's special envoy.

But Lakhdar Brahimi, the envoy who is convening the talks between the Syrian government and opposition, said he didn't expect much progress on the first meeting and that he is still hopeful that the two warring parties can find common ground once the second round begins in a week or two.

"You know, to be blunt, I do not expect that we will achieve anything substantive," he said after the close of talks in Geneva Wednesday. The talks will wrap up Friday, he added. "I am very happy that we are still talking, that the ice is breaking slowly, but it is breaking, and that we will separate on Friday and discuss what we will do when we resume."

In New York, Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said, "We're encouraged that the process has begun after so many years of fighting."

The high-level talks, which have gone on in earnest for about a week, mainly at the urging of the United States and Russia, have been beset by diplomatic inertia as the Syrian government delegation and opposition officials have not been able to agree on the logistics of some preliminary, if critical, issues.

Those include implementing local cease-fires and establishing a humanitarian corridor to bring relief to civilians trapped in places like the Old City of Homs, which has not received a shipment of food and supplies for two years.

Neither of those goals has been achieved.

"We also tried to see what is happening over the humanitarian issues in particular about Homs, where negotiations between the United Nations and the Syrian authorities are still ongoing," he said at a news conference. "You know, we realize every day that the two parties seem to be willing to stay on and to talk, but the gap between them is quite large."

Truckloads of food and supplies stand at the ready outside Syria's war-torn cities, blocked from reaching hungry Syrians, as diplomats joust at the Palace of Nations in Europe, the site of the so-called Geneva II talks.

The talks also have been hampered by the two sides' initial positions going into the sessions, with the Syrian government delegation stating its goal in attending is to rid the nation of terrorism, particularly al-Qaida-linked groups that are part of the opposition. But the opposition and its backers said their objective in attending is to rid Syria of President Bashar Assad.

That sentiment was echoed by Secretary of State John Kerry, who at the conference opening said that there was no place for Assad at the helm in Syria's future. "There is no one who has done more to make Syria a magnet for terrorists than Bashar al-Assad," he said.

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