Peace talks in Geneva between the Assad regime and the main factions of the Syria opposition are on the verge of collapse, after government representatives refused to take part in discussions about a future governing body.
The UN special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi apologised to the Syrian people for the lack of progress when Saturday's talks ended after less than half an hour.
Hopes had been raised that baby steps were being taken toward a more concrete resolution on the sixth day of talks, when sides agreed a short ceasefire to allow people to be evacuated from the besieged city of Homs.
But Brahimi said in a statement to reporters that the hopes had been false. "I am very very sorry and I apologise to the Syrian people that their hopes which were very very high here, that something will happen here," he said,
"I think that the little that has been achieved in Homs gave them even more hope that maybe this is the beginning of coming out of this horrible crisis they are in."
Brahimi had proposed a further round of talks that would focus on a ceasefire, then on the creation of a transitional governing body.
"Unfortunately, the government has refused," he said. "Which raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the government doesn’t want to discuss the transitional governing body at all.
“In that case, I have suggested that it’s not good for the process, it’s not good for Syria that we come back for another round and fall in the same trap that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round.
“So I think it is better that every side goes back and reflect and take their responsibility: do they want this process to take place or not?”
Foreign Secretary William Hague put the blame for the stalemate directly at the feet of the Syrian government.
"The failure to agree an agenda for future rounds of talks on the Geneva process is a serious setback in the search for peace in Syria, and the responsibility for it lies squarely with the Assad regime," he said in a statement.
“Lakhdar Brahimi's comments at his press conference this morning made clear that the regime refused to discuss the issue of a Transitional Governing Body, an issue that is at the heart of the negotiation and an essential means of ending the conflict.
“This cannot be the end of the road. With the war in Syria causing more death and destruction every day, we owe it to the people of Syria to do all we can to make progress towards a political solution. So we will continue to give our strong support to Lakhdar Brahimi and the Geneva process.
“It is also now more urgent than ever to move forward with a UN Security Council Resolution that addresses the appalling humanitarian suffering in Syria. The people in Syria's besieged areas and the many parts of the country not receiving any aid cannot wait.”
"We again call on all members of the international community, including [Syrian president Bashar al-] Assad's allies, to make clear to the regime that it must immediately cease these unwarranted attacks that undermine the Geneva process and the prospects of peace in Syria," US state department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said.
Brahimi will now consult with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the state of further talks.
"Everybody needs to go back to their base and we will contact each other to determine the coming date. It is not clear," he said.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said there had been scant improvement in the humanitarian situation in Homs, even with the short agreement, warning it cannot reach up to three million people.Suggest a correction