Syria government refuses to commit to new round of Geneva peace talks

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with AFP at the presidential palace in Damascus, Jan. 20, 2014. Getty

BEIRUT -- The Syrian government has not decided yet whether to take part in a second round of peace talks tentatively scheduled for next week, a senior official said.

A tumultuous week of negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva last month between President Bashar Assad's government and the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group ended without making any significant headway. The U.N. has proposed holding a second round of discussions that would begin Monday.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition already has agreed to attend. The government, however, has refused to commit.

Bouthaina Shaaban, a close political and media adviser to Assad, told Syrian state television in an interview late Wednesday that the government delegation to last month's talks in Switzerland is still evaluating the first round of negotiations and briefing the leadership on them.

Shaaban did not say when a decision on attending next week's proposed talks would be made, only saying that the delegation is waiting on instructions from Syria's leadership.

Despite Damascus' dithering, Assad's chief ally, Russia, expressed confidence earlier this week that the Syrian government would indeed return to the U.N.-hosted peace talks in Geneva.

The negotiations aim to broker a political solution to Syria's civil war. The conflict has killed more than 130,000 people, forced more than 2.3 million to seek refuge abroad, and sent sectarian tensions soaring across the region.

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