Syria’s peace talks are moving forward with greater ease but United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has warned against expecting substantive results during this round.
Brahimi said on Wednesday that the “ice is breaking”, calling the presence of both the government and the opposition at the negotiating table a step in the right direction.
“These people have not sat together for three years. They do not expect that there’ll be a magic wand,” Brahimi said, insisting he was “not disappointed.”
Delegations from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition National Coalition are set to determine on Friday when they will return to Geneva for the next round of talks, Brahimi said.
“I hope that the second session will be more structured and hopefully more productive than the first session,” he added.
Opposition delegation spokesman Louay Safi told reporters on Thursday that the two sides had spoken about stopping the violence, noting the opposition presented evidence of government violence and massacres within residential neighbourhoods.
Safi said the government wanted to speak first about issues such as ending the violence and bringing humanitarian aid, instead of dealing with political transition.
“We believe this is the wrong sequence,” he said.
After days of deadlock, both sides had voiced optimism on Wednesday after the government announced it was willing to discuss the issue of a transition government.
The opposition views such a government as the first step towards a political solution, and has insisted that Assad leave power.
The Geneva 1 communique, a never-implemented roadmap developed during 2012 talks, calls for a transitional government, but the regime denies the document requires Assad to resign.
Both sides are conflicted over what role Geneva 1 should play in current talks.
“We want to discuss Geneva 1 item by item, starting from the first item,” said Bouthaina Shaaban, regime delegation member, accusing the opposition of focusing on the transitional government in a bid to grab power.
The Geneva negotiations are considered the biggest diplomatic push to get both sides together to end Syria’s war, which has killed more than 130,000 and displaced millions more.
Also on Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States was “concerned” that the Syrian government was behind schedule on removing chemical weapons materials that are due to be destroyed under an international deal.
During a visit to Poland, Hagel said he asked his Russian counterpart to put pressure on Syria to comply with the deal, and urged the Syrian government to intensify efforts to transport chemical arms to port for destruction.