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GENEVA (AP) — The seventh round of intra-Syria talks aimed at helping end the country's six-year-old war wrapped up Friday, and the U.N. envoy said they featured "no breakthrough, no breakdown, no one walking out, incremental progress."
Staffan de Mistura, the special U.N. envoy for Syria, said the Syrian government has not budged in its unwillingness to discuss political transition at the talks in Geneva while President Bashar Assad's representatives have pursued an almost incessant theme of the fight against terrorism.
Saying Assad's envoys claim to be the only ones talking about the fight against terrorist groups, de Mistura said no side should have "ownership" of that issue. He went on to "clarify some thoughts" about terrorism, mostly reiterating longstanding U.N. positions that he believes have increasingly appeared dormant.
"I felt that there was an expectation for the U.N. to indicate where we are in the fight against terrorism, which is becoming the main issue being discussed at the highest possible level elsewhere," de Mistura said during a news conference, apparently referring to the focus of the Trump administration and others on combating terrorism.
Syria's main opposition group has striven unsuccessfully to put the talks' spotlight on "political transition" in their country, something sought by a U.N. Security Council resolution in December 2015. It has been a bedrock text underlying de Mistura's efforts.
The U.N. envoy said he has seen no sign that Assad's representatives would ever discuss political transition. "I have been asking them for the next round to be ready to address the political process," he said.
De Mistura also noted recent progress in Syria through international diplomacy, such as a temporary truce in parts of southern Syria that was brokered by Jordan, Russia and the United States.
He warmly welcomed a call by French President Emmanuel Macron for the creation of a "contact group" that would support a political road map for Syria after its war ends.
In New York, France's ambassador to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, said a contact group would aim to support de Mistura's efforts. The plan would enlist the five permanent Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and regional players.
Delattre stressed that "the fight against terrorism is our number one priority" and the only way to get rid of terrorists "is through a negotiated political solution." He called for a "credible, robust and inclusive monitoring mechanism" for the Syrian cease-fire.
Referring to the September round of talks, de Mistura said, "We will see whether by that time the international momentum ... may be able to actually push all sides to finally sit in the same room and start talking about substance."
The sides have been meeting separately with de Mistura and his team, never speaking face-to-face.
The head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Ja'afari, said earlier that his team has not been asked to hold direct talks.
Alluding to foreign backers of the main Syrian opposition group, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as those who support smaller factions, Ja'afari said that "the most important thing is for us to have a national partner, and not a client for foreign agendas."
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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