UN mediator doesn't expect 'substantive' result at Syria talks round

GENEVA (AFP) - UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday he did not expect a week of peace talks in Geneva between Syria's warring sides to produce "anything substantive".

"To be blunt, I do not expect that we will achieve anything substantive," Brahimi told reporters after a fifth day of talks in the Swiss city, which are set to conclude Friday.

He stressed though that he had not expected to make much progress during the first round of talks, which mark the first time the two sides have sat down face-to-face in a bid to end the civil war that has claimed 130,000 lives and forced millions from their homes.

"I am very happy that we're still talking. That the ice is breaking, slowly, but it is breaking," Brahimi said. "These people have not sat together for three years. They do not expect that there'll be a magic wand," he added.

He hailed the two parties for their willingness to "stay on and talk," but stressed that "the gap between them still seems quite large." The UN-Arab League envoy said the delegations from President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition National Coalition would decide on Friday when they would meet again in Geneva for a second round of talks, likely after a week.

"I hope the second session will be more structured and more productive," he said.

He called on Washington and Moscow, which respectively back the opposition and the regime and which instigated the talks, to "use their influence with the parties." "They are using their capacity to convince, which is more than my capacity to convince," he said.

After days of deadlock, the two sides both voiced a grain of optimism earlier Wednesday, telling reporters that a morning session had been "positive".

Wednesday's discussions had finally focused on the Geneva I communique - the never-implemented roadmap to peace put out by global powers during talks here in 2012, but the two sides disagree sharply on what part of the text the talks should focus on.

The opposition insists a transitional government, which does not include Assad, must first be agreed upon, while the regime rules out Assad's departure and says the talks should focus on fighting "terrorism".

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