Syria Talks End, US Officials Hint Damascus Taking it Easy on al Qaeda


During the nine days of the initial round of talks between the Syrian regime and a coalition of rebel groups, almost 1,900 people were killed across the country in continuing violence, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

There wasn’t much optimism among participants as the talks broke up until Feb 10, with United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi telling reporters during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland that “the gaps between the sides remain wide; there is no use pretending otherwise.”

A senior US official echoed that assessment on Friday, saying that “I can’t say they got a lot accomplished” during the first round of talks, but that “finally there is a process launched, it is significant that throughout the week the two sides agreed to stay in the room…that is not a small thing.”

“I don’t think that Round 2 is going to produce gigantic breakthroughs either” the American official, who did not want to be identified by name said.

There have been reports that al Qaeda linked elements in Syria have taken over much of the country’s oil producing capacity, and have been selling oil back to the regime.

US officials see more to the relationship than that however, and have hinted that the regime in Damascus has been pulling its punches against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the main al Qaeda-related group fighting in the region.

“The regime has declined to hit the headquarters of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State Group” in Syria the senior US official told reporters on Friday. “But they’ve hit plenty of other targets of other armed groups.”

The official declined to go into too much detail, but added that “there is a curious selection process apparently in the way that the Syrian air forces and military forces are choosing their priority targets.”

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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