U.N. kicks off Syria talks, hopes opposition fighters will come

Rebel fighters from 'the First Regiment', part of the Free Syrian Army, hold log as they participate in a military training in the western countryside of Aleppo May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Hosam Katan (Reuters)

By Tom Miles GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday it had launched its third major push in as many years to find common ground between the warring parties in Syria and for the first time said it hoped Syria's armed opposition groups might come to Geneva. A year after the failure of U.N.-mediated talks between Syrian government and opposition representatives, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is taking a much less ambitious route, sitting down to hear the views of more than 40 groups, one by one, over the next six to eight weeks, and possibly longer. He kicked off the consultations on Tuesday by meeting Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Hussam Edin Aala. Among those invited are about 20 countries and "a broad spectrum of youth, political and military actors, women, victims, civil society, diaspora, religious and community leaders and more," De Mistura told a news conference. The invitees also include opposition armed groups, but not Jabhat al-Nusra or Islamic State, also known as ISIS and by its Arabic name Daesh, which are proscribed by the United Nations as "terrorist organizations". "As with anyone else, I will not elaborate on who is being invited and how many and which ones, I will simply say that the category of commanders has been invited and I will not go beyond that," he said. It was not clear whether they would turn up. De Mistura made no promises about stopping a war that has killed more than 220,000 people and created almost 4 million refugees, but he said it was his job to leave no stone unturned. He said his goal was to find ways to "operationalise" the Geneva Communiqué, a 2012 agreement that laid out the broad guidelines for stopping hostilities and starting a political transition. Although the communiqué has often been cited as the starting point for any eventual Syria future talks, De Mistura said it had "neither become reality nor (had there been) a serious discussion on how to implement it". Diplomats say the landscape has changed since the text was agreed, with the rise of the Islamic State militant group and signs of a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, which backs Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. De Mistura said he wanted to see whether there was now common ground within the international community on Syria and whether "the gaps in how to implement it (the agreement) had narrowed". (Editing by Gareth Jones)