UN mediators seek common ground between Syrian foes

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The United Nations is taking a day to see if there is enough common ground between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and the opposition to talk directly for the first time since the rebellion began in 2011.

Peace talks charting a path out of Syria’s civil war got off to a tense start in Montreux, Switzerland, on Wednesday, with Mr Assad’s future at the heart of bitter exchanges on the podium as dozens of the world’s most powerful diplomats looked on.

High-level mediating has yielded little so far, but Lakhdar Brahimi, left, the UN mediator who is meeting separately yesterday with each Syrian delegation, said there are signs they might be willing to bend on humanitarian aid, 
ceasefires and prisoner exchanges.

At another Swiss venue, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called yesterday for a new election in Syria, saying his nation would respect the results.

“The best solution is to organise a free and fair election in Syria” and once the ballots are cast “we should all accept” the outcome, he said.

Iran, a close ally of Mr Assad’s, was barred from participating in the Swiss-based talks to end Syria’s civil war.

At least 130,000 people have been killing in the fighting 
that began with a peaceful uprising against Mr Assad’s rule, according to activists. The fighting has become a proxy war between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia, and taken on post-Cold War overtones with Russia and the United States backing opposite sides.

Signs of compromise were limited after 12 hours of meetings and speeches on Wednesday.

Opinion and Bill Carmichael: Page 15.