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Geneva talks on Syria are at an impasse

US, Russia trade accusations over who is to blame

GENEVA — Peace talks aimed at forging a path out of Syria’s civil war have reached an impasse — with no guarantee of continuing — after five days of sparring over responsibility for mounting violence back home and President Bashar Assad’s future, government and opposition delegates said Friday.

Echoing the position of the rival camps, senior US and Russian officials traded accusations over who was to blame for the stalemate, adding to the polarization of a war that has killed 130,000 people, displaced millions, destroyed a country, and threatens to engulf the Middle East in religious conflict.

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It was unclear Friday how long the weary sides were willing to continue with the talks, which have been on the verge of collapse since they were convened last month. Despite the rancor, both sides left the door open for more negotiations, including a possible final session Saturday before breaking up.

A senior US official acknowledged that ‘‘talks for show make no sense’’ but told reporters there was still ‘‘enormous’’ energy for a political solution, adding that perhaps what was needed was ‘‘a few days of recess’’ for people to reflect. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with rules established by the US administration.

Both the United States and Russia have kept the talks going, knowing that it was the only option on the table — at least for now.

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The rebellion against Assad’s rule has been sapped by infighting among moderates, Islamist groups, and Al Qaeda-inspired militants competing for control of territory, weapons, and influence. Assad’s forces are solidifying gains, but the battle lines are largely stalemated, leading to a growing sense internationally that neither side is close to victory.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that President Obama had asked aides to develop new policy options to deal with the deteriorating situation in Syria. Kerry said that none of the policy options had yet been presented to the White House for a decision.

Kerry’s comments reflect increased concern within the US government and nongovernmental organizations over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria. They also reflect frustration that Assad appears to have little interest in negotiating the establishment of a transitional government in which he would not play a role.

The United States has repeatedly asserted that the negotiation of such a transitional body is the main purpose of the talks. Assad’s negotiators have sought to focus on ways to combat what they call terrorism, a blanket description for armed opposition to him.

Kerry did not say what options might be under consideration within the Obama administration or whether they included stepping up the covert CIA program to train and arm the moderate Syrian opposition or even the threat of military force to compel the delivery of aid.

In the talks, the opposition, which holds little sway among the dozens of rebel groups on the ground, is under pressure to come away with a deal rather than risk Assad holding on to power in a grinding war of attrition.

‘‘Unfortunately we have reached a dead end,’’ opposition spokesman Louay Safi said following separate meetings Friday between UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and opposition and government delegations. ‘‘I hope we can still find an opening in that wall,’’ he added.

Safi said it was too early to say whether there would be a third round of talks.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, also announced ‘that the talks were not going anywhere. ‘‘We came to Geneva to implement Syria’s declared position to reach a political solution to the crisis. . . . Unfortunately the other side came with another agenda, an unrealistic agenda,’’ he said.

The charges underscored just how far out of reach a political solution for Syria’s civil war remains.

It also demonstrates the clashing interests that go far beyond Syria’s borders to the warring sides’ international sponsors — Russia and the United States —which both have their own interests in pushing the negotiations.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.
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