Syrian foes set Geneva talks agenda

Representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition sat down this morning in Geneva for their first face-to-face meeting since the country's civil war began almost three years ago.

Humanitarian aid delivery in Homs up for discussion later in the day

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad speaks to reporters at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Saturday. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/Associated Press)

Syria's civil war foes held their first meeting in the same room in the presence of international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on Saturday after a day's delay and fierce recriminations.

The talks in Geneva aimed to launch political negotiations on ending Syria's nearly three-year conflict, which has killed 130,000 people, displaced over third of Syria's 22 million population and destabilized the wider region.

The two sides entered and left the room through separate doors. They faced each other silently during a meeting that lasted roughly half an hour as Brahimi outlined the agenda. The two sides then agreed to reconvene at 4 p.m. local time.

The first two days of the talks would focus on negotiations to lift sieges of civilians including in the central city of Homs, as well as local ceasefires and humanitarian access, but the core of the negotiations should be about resolving the conflict, Brahimi told the meeting.

"He made it very clear that this conference is a political conference and this negotiation is a political negotiation aimed at implementing Geneva 1. He also spoke about the urgent need to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people," said  member of opposition delegation Anas al-Abdah after the morning session broke up.

Ceasefire in Homs focus of afternoon talks

Opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah said the afternoon talks will focus on reaching a deal for a short ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to enter rebel-held areas of Homs.

The peace conference almost collapsed on Friday, the day face-to-face talks were meant to start, and was only saved after Brahimi persuaded the two sides to focus on smaller issues on which agreement might emerge.

But Syrian National Coalition spokesman, Louay Safi expressed concerns over the Syrian government's delegation's intentions.

"Well we have a lot of suspicions about the intentions of the regime's delegation about the seriousness and the goodwill," he said.

Arriving back at the hotel where opposition delegates are staying, opposition delegate Hadi al-Bahra described the morning's session.

''Mr. Brahimi was the moderator, he was the only speaker, and he reaffirmed that the basis of this conference was the full implementation of the Geneva 1 communique and its main clause was discussing the process for a political transition," he said.

The June 2012 Geneva 1 communique calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body — a goal the Damascus government rejects.

With international divisions over how to end the conflict putting an overall political solution out of reach for now, the two sides will focus on small, confidence-building steps with no certainty negotiations will even last the week.

Humanitarian access for Homs, where rebels are surrounded in central districts by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, could be agreed to quickly.

Syria's civil war has made half of the population dependent on aid, including hundreds of thousands cut off by fighting.