Syrian peace talks concludes in Geneva

Syrian regime fighters take position as they advance to retake the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State group fighters

As for the opposition, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) group was less constructive as it "has not withdrawn yet its whimsical demand that [Syrian] President Bashar Assad should resign before the beginning of the talks" and made unrealistic remarks regarding the country's' future constitution, he said.

The additional basket, said de Mistura, "addresses within the context of the overall transitional political process, issues related to strategies of counterterrorism, security governance and also medium-term confidence building measures".

Both sides could point to small victories.

The Syrian chief negotiator said Damascus was now examining whether to return for the next round of Geneva talks later in March.

Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Ja'afari told reporters that he had discussed "substantive issues, particularly counter-terrorism" with United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura, and would continue on Friday.

Speaking at the end of that meeting, Jihad Makdissi, head of the opposition Cairo platform, said if procedural issues are overcome there may be another round of talks in March. "The difficulty is that the opposition wants to be sure how the question of terrorism will be dealt with and in what order", one diplomat said.

"They need language that ensures the process is not hijacked by the government to distract from political transition".

De Mistura acknowledged the aim was to hold another round of indirect negotiations later in March, 2017.

Past peace efforts have failed, often as a fractured opposition succumbed to pressure from events on the battlefield, having failed to penetrate Ja'afari's steely intransigence.

Despite those contacts, Russian Federation accused the main opposition of trying to sabotage the talks by refusing to unite with two smaller dissident groups which have no military muscle but have Moscow's blessing as opposition voices. We declared ourselves in favor of an inclusive dialogue with the participation of all groups, including those in the opposition that are ready to take action for a political solution, the Russian diplomat said.

The Astana meetings would deal with "maintenance of the ceasefire, immediate confidence-building measures and operational counter-terrorism issues", the United Nations mediator told a reporters.

Trump has said his priority is to fight Islamic State, which has left Russia in the diplomatic driving seat and put Russia, Turkey and Iran in charge of overseeing a shaky ceasefire.

"Russia is trying to do that to destabilize the talks".

One breakthrough, Monzer noted, was an "ice-breaker" meeting late Thursday with the largest opposition delegation at the talks.

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