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Originally published Friday, February 14, 2014 at 7:20 PM

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Syrian peace talks reach impasse; U.S., Russia spar

U.S. and Russian officials traded accusations over who was to blame for the peace-talks stalemate, adding to the polarization of a war that has killed 130,000 people in Syria, displaced millions, destroyed a country and threatens to engulf the Middle East in religious conflict.


The Associated Press

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GENEVA — Peace talks aimed at forging a path out of Syria’s civil war have reached an impasse — with no guarantee of continuing — after five days of sparring over responsibility for mounting violence back home and President Bashar Assad’s future, government and opposition delegates said Friday.

Senior U.S. and Russian officials traded accusations over who was to blame for the stalemate, adding to the polarization of a war that has killed 130,000 people, displaced millions, destroyed a country and threatens to engulf the Middle East in religious conflict.

It was unclear Friday how long the sides were willing to continue with the talks, which have been on the verge of collapse since they were convened last month. Despite the rancor, both sides left the door open for more negotiations, including a possible final session Saturday before breaking up.

A senior U.S. official acknowledged “talks for show make no sense” but added that there was still “enormous” energy for a political solution, adding that perhaps what was needed was “a few days of recess” for people to reflect. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The rebellion against Assad’s rule has been sapped by deadly infighting among moderates, Islamic groups and al-Qaida-inspired militants competing for control of territory, weapons and influence. Assad’s forces are solidifying gains, but the battle lines are largely stalemated, leading to a growing sense that neither side is close to victory.

In Beijing, Secretary of State John Kerry said President Obama had asked aides to develop new policy options on Syria, but he did not say what options were under consideration or whether the president had established a deadline for delivering them.

Diplomats in Geneva said the administration might consider stepping up an existing covert program to train and arm the moderate Syrian opposition or weigh the threat of military force to compel the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The opposition, which holds little sway among the dozens of rebel groups on the ground, is under pressure to come away with a deal rather than risk Assad holding on to power in a grinding war of attrition.

“Unfortunately, we have reached a dead end,” opposition spokesman Louay Safi said after separate meetings Friday between U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and opposition and government delegations.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, announced “with deep regret” that the talks were not going anywhere. “We came to Geneva to implement Syria’s declared position to reach a political solution to the crisis. ... Unfortunately, the other side came with another agenda, an unrealistic agenda,” he said.

The charges illustrated how far out of reach a political solution for Syria’s civil war remains.

U.S. and U.N. officials have said that merely getting the two sides in the same room was something of a victory. Some credit the talks with leading to an evacuation of hundreds of civilians from the embattled Syrian city of Homs. Other than that, the talks yielded little more than acrimony.

While haggling continued in Geneva, violence escalated in Syria, with both sides blaming each other for a soaring death toll. A car bomb blew up outside a mosque in the rebel-held village of Yadouda in southern Syria as worshippers were leaving after Friday prayers, killing dozens of people, anti-government activists said.

Yadouda is in the southern province of Daraa, birthplace of the uprising against Assad that began with peaceful protests in March 2011 and morphed into a civil war.

In the northern city of Aleppo, rebels blew up part of the once-luxurious Carlton Hotel, where soldiers are stationed, by tunneling under the building and planting explosives, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory’s for Human Rights. Assad’s government, meanwhile, kept up its barrel-bombing of the city.

In the past two weeks, the government increased its attack to sometimes 30 barrel bombs a day, and most civilians have fled, according to opposition activists.

Material from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.



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