GENEVA — Frustrations mounted here Friday as the second round of Syrian peace talks drew near a close without breaking a weeklong deadlock.
The meeting's sponsors, Russia and the United States, traded barbs, and U.S. officials said they were developing new policy options to respond to the violence and humanitarian crisis in Syria that have only escalated during the talks.
The opposing parties failed to agree even on an agenda, an impasse for which the U.N. mediator blamed the Syrian government delegation, according to two Western diplomats. The Americans and the Russians, by week's end, appeared to have moved further apart on the goals of the talks and how to get the sides to engage in substantive negotiations.
All the while, on the ground in Syria, the government launched new military campaigns and accelerated a strategy of defanging the international talks by striking local cease-fires without addressing broader political issues. It pressed ahead with efforts to obtain the effective surrender of rebel-held areas it has long blockaded and even starved, and to persuade civilians to leave their homes in a process that its opponents condemn as forced displacement.
New tensions between Russia and the United States appeared to complicate the picture. Russia bridled Wednesday at a U.S.-backed proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring the parties to allow humanitarian aid access, calling it biased against the government, and introducing a competing version.
A senior U.S. official said Friday that it was unclear whether the Russians were unwilling or unable to persuade the Syrian government to discuss what the mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, calls the main goal of the talks, the establishment of a fully empowered transitional governing body "by mutual consent."
But Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, appeared newly confident Friday after Russian officials made statements that dashed hopes that they would put new pressure on Damascus.
Russian officials accused the opposition's Western backers of focusing only on "regime change," and seemed to support Syrian officials' refusal to discuss a political transition until after talks on fighting terrorism in Syria.
For its part, the opposition delegation offered what appeared to be a significant compromise, or at least a softened tone, Wednesday. In a 24-point proposal laying out the structure of a transitional government, for the first time it did not specifically demand that President Bashar Assad be excluded from such a government.