“I cannot realistically call for new Geneva talks starting on February 25th,” the UN's special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper on Friday.
“We need 10 days of preparations and invitations. But we will aim to do this soon,” he said in a telephone interview from Damascus.
Indirect talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition collapsed on February 3rd after a Russian-backed regime onslaught on the northern city of Aleppo, and a second round was pencilled in for February 25th.
Born in Stockholm, De Mistura is a Swedish-Italian diplomat who began his UN career in 1971 with the World Food Programme in Sudan and has since served in trouble spots including Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Lebanon, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.
He has been working as the UN's special envoy to Syria since summer 2014.
De Mistura made a surprise trip to Damascus after world powers last week called for immediate aid access throughout Syria and a “cessation of hostilities” to begin by Friday.
“I cannot say when I will call for talks. We have been disappointed in the past, now I am pragmatic and determined,” he told the paper. “We need real talks about peace, not just talks about talks.”
“I would like that the US and Russia, with their partners, agree about a beginning of a cessation of hostilities between today and mid-next week,” he said. “Now the ball is in their court.”
Staffan de Mistura. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP
De Mistura also warned of the dangers of the five-year Syrian war developing into a wider regional conflict, voicing concern about actions by neighbouring Turkey.
He said Turkey's bombardment of Syrian Kurdish fighters across the border has made the need for a solution ever more pressing.
“Turkey is complicating everything and it might complicate things further. This is a reason for more urgency. Major countries must realise that we need to put a lid on what can become even more of a regional and proxy conflict,” he said.
“Any type of further conflict along the border of Syria has the potential to spin out of control.”
The United Nations has also begun delivering aid to people living in areas of Syria besieged by the government, rebels and jihadist forces.
“On the humanitarian side, the beginning is there but needs to be pushed ahead,” de Mistura said.