Syria Peace Talks Open—Unpleasantly

Sides take firm stances in opening speeches

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 22, 2014 7:50 AM CST

(Newser) – With more than 100,000 dead in a divided Syria, government and opposition leaders are in Switzerland today for year-in-the-making international peace talks. Direct talks haven't even begun yet (that comes Friday), but so far, the tone at the "Geneva II" talks has been far from friendly, the BBC reports. "Syria the independent state will do all that is necessary to defend itself," said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, in a more than 30-minute speech that blew past his 10-minute limit in defiance of Ban Ki-moon's efforts to hold him to it—and Ban's requests that he not use inflammatory language. The New York Times says opening speakers actually only had seven minutes, and that at one point Muallem told Ban, "You live in New York. I live in Syria."

Ban wasn't his only target: Muallem added, directly to John Kerry: "No one in the world has the right to confer or withdraw the legitimacy of a president, a constitution, or a law, except for the Syrians themselves." The divisions between the US and Russia also "immediately came to the fore," the Times reports. Kerry said the US sees "only one option: negotiating a transition government born by mutual consent. That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transition government." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov countered that the gathering had to "refrain from any attempt to predetermine the outcome of the process." The BBC notes that 40 foreign ministers will speak before the direct talks kick off; it will be the first time the Syrian government comes face-to-face with the opposition Syrian National Coalition since the conflict's 2011 start.

UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, left, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, right, attend the so-called Geneva II peace talks in Montreux Switzerland.
UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, left, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, right, attend the so-called Geneva II peace talks in Montreux Switzerland.   (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)
This image taken from UNTV via APTN shows Amhad al-Jarba, the head of Syria's Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, holding up an image of alleged torture victims.
This image taken from UNTV via APTN shows Amhad al-Jarba, the head of Syria's Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, holding up an image of alleged torture victims.   (AP Photo/UNTV via APTN)
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem leads his delegation during a plenary session in Montreux, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem leads his delegation during a plenary session in Montreux, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.   (AP Photo/Gary Cameron, Pool)
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