The top United Nations diplomat working to resolve the civil war in Syria reported some progress Friday after nearly 10 days of talks, saying both sides finally had agreed on what he described as a “clear agenda” for further negotiations.
The diplomat, Staffan de Mistura, said discussions of counterterrorism and security had been added to the list of topics to be addressed on the agenda to end the war, which is about to enter its seventh year.
But the concession also puts Mr. Assad’s emissaries under pressure to now negotiate on the other agreed-upon agenda topics — an inclusive government, a new constitution and elections to be held under United Nations supervision.
“I think and believe we have a clear agenda now in front of us,” Mr. de Mistura told a news conference in Geneva.
The progress on defining what the Syrian antagonists would even talk about spoke volumes about the frustrations that have vexed Mr. de Mistura in the talks, which have been held off and on for years and have been punctuated by acrimony and false hope.
Even now, Mr. de Mistura said, the team of Syrian government negotiators and the opposition representatives use him as an intermediary to exchange positions.
“At the moment, it’s more effective to have proxy meeting discussions, like we have had this time,” Mr. de Mistura said. He also acknowledged that after so much war and recrimination, “we shouldn’t expect a breakthrough.”
He added that the next round of discussions would be held later this month, after he reported to Secretary General António Guterres and the Security Council next week.
While Mr. de Mistura said he expected that both Mr. Assad’s government and the coalition of opposition groups would continue to publicly denounce each other, “this is part of the rhetoric.”
In private, he said: “I know what I heard and what I saw. That gives me some feeling we are moving in the right direction.”
With an agreement on the agenda now settled, Mr. de Mistura said, “the train is ready, it is in the station, it is warming up the engine, everything is ready, it just needs an accelerator.”
Before Mr. de Mistura spoke, the lead negotiator for the Syrian opposition, Nasr al-Hariri, told reporters in Geneva that the latest round of discussions “was more positive” than previous talks, and that “we formed acceptable agreements to create a framework as a starting point.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Hariri showed no inclination to be charitable to Mr. Assad, whose forces have been accused of extensive atrocities including the summary executions of thousands of detainees, banned weapons including chemical bombs, and intentional destruction of humanitarian aid for civilians.
“Bashar al-Assad is willing to burn the entire country to stay in power,” Mr. Hariri said.
There was no immediate comment on the outcome of the talks from the chief Syrian negotiator, Bashar al-Jaafari. But the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said his delegation had met with officials of Russia, Mr. Assad’s most important ally, and that they all had expressed “satisfaction with the course of the talks in Geneva, despite the attempts by some sides to foil these talks.”
The Geneva negotiations are separate from, but related to, talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, led by Russia and Turkey, that have sought to strengthen and expand a tenuous cease-fire in parts of Syria.
Mr. de Mistura, who endorsed the Astana talks, rejected suggestions on Friday that they had undermined his own diplomacy. “We’re actually working together, not competing,” he said.