Impasse, blame, and apology as Syria talks end
"They can't have it both ways," a senior Obama administration official said of Russia, which is Assad's principal international backer, but also supported the U.S. idea of inviting both sides to the negotiations. Russia can't say it wants that peaceful approach and a "happy Olympics," while it is also "part and parcel of supporting this regime as it kills people in the most brutal way," the official said.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the agenda for an unusual meeting Saturday in California between President Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah II, at which the two leaders discussed the failing international efforts to broker peace and ease desperate conditions in Syria.
Abdullah requested the meeting, partly to seek additional U.S. help for coping with an overwhelming flow of refugees. His small, Western-oriented nation is deeply uneasy about the near collapse of Syria and the spread of Islamic militancy in the vacuum.
"It's not good for Syria that we come back for another round and fall in the same trap that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round," U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said in Geneva, where the acrimonious talks ended on a somber note.
Brahimi apologized to the Syrian people for the lack of progress after two sessions of face-to-face meetings between Assad's representatives and members of the opposition in exile. Brahimi urged both sides to consider whether they were ready and willing to go on, and for the first time laid blame for the failure at the feet of the Syrian government.
The opposition, backed by the U.S. and numerous other nations, insists that the talks are premised on naming a power-sharing government to replace Assad. Assad's envoys scoffed at that and said they showed up to raise awareness of what the Syrian regime's leader calls a terrorist threat feeding on the chaos and spilling over into other countries in the Middle East.
The talks were a risk for Syria's moderate opposition, which feared losing what little influence and credibility it carried among frontline fighters. Brahimi was unable to get the regime to agree to even a small package of humanitarian concessions, a step meant to help the opposition show that the talks could deliver tangible help for the besieged.
A humanitarian cease-fire in Homs has been presented as a bright spot, although that had been under discussion for months. Brahimi said the modest progress in the city had given the Syrian people hope that the process could bear fruit.
"I apologize to them that, on these two rounds, we haven't helped them very much," he said.
Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, said the government had accepted the agenda, but had issues with the opposition's unrealistic interpretation of it. The opposition said in a statement that its representatives had come to Geneva to make peace, but had found at the table not "a negotiating partner, but puppets on strings pulled by Damascus."
With no date set for a resumption of talks, it seems likely the violence will only continue to intensify.
The Geneva talks represent the only strategy Obama has advanced to try to end the war, and both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have acknowledged in recent days that it isn't working.
During the talks, the Assad government has been accused of stepping up attacks on the ground in Syria, conducting devastating aerial campaigns against the northern city of Aleppo and rebel-held areas near the Lebanese border.