Syrian Peace Talks On Verge of Collapse

Opposition refuses direct talks, and Assad's delegation threatens to go home

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Arnd Wiegmann / EPA

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem listens to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton in Montreux, Switzerland Jan. 22, 2014.

Syrian peace talks in Geneva faltered Friday after the western-backed opposition refused to take part in face-to-face negotiations with President Bashar Assad’s delegation, and Assad’s government threatening to return to Syria unless serious talks began within a day.

The two sides will now meet with a U.N. mediator separately after the government rejected the opposition’s demands to begin a process of creating a transitional administration, reports Reuters.

“If no serious work sessions are held by (Saturday), the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva due to the other side’s lack of seriousness or preparedness,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said according to Syrian state television.

“The objective is for the first of talks to last until next Friday, but expectations are so low we’ll see how things develop day by day,” Reuters reported a Western diplomat as saying.

Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011 with a peaceful uprising against Assad’s government, has seen more than 130,000 killed and uprooted almost one-third of the country’s population. Both the E.U. and the U.N. have described the conflict as the “greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times.”