Syria Foes Agree on Basis of Peace Talks

Geneva talks take tentative step forward, as government and opposition agree to discuss transitional government.

Talks aimed at ending the war in Syria took a first tentative step forward on Wednesday as both sides agreed to use the same document as the basis of discussions, although they disagreed about how the negotiations should proceed.

Opposition spokesman Louay al-Safi called the day's talks a positive step. "We will talk about the details in the coming days - the size of the body, its duties, the length of its mandate," al-Safi added, speaking with reporters after the two sides' delegates met with the UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on Wednesday.

Both sides said they agreed to use the "Geneva communique", a document agreed at a previous international conference in Geneva in June 2012, and which sets out the stages needed for an end to the fighting and a political transition.

Bouthaina Shaaban, a Syrian presidential adviser, said there was agreement on using the text, but with some reservations.

While the opposition wants to start by addressing the question of the transitional governing body that the talks aim to create, the government insists that the first step is to discuss "terrorism", and not jump into the middle of the text.

The government describes those fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad as terrorists. The opposition says transitional arrangements must include the removal of Assad, which the government rejects.

Expectations regarding chances for a breakthrough remain mixed, but the organisers of the talks at the UN headquarters in Geneva have been at pains to keep the process going and dissuade either of the sides from walking out.

Britain to take in refugees

Meanwhile, the British government announced the nation will take in some of the "most vulnerable" Syrian refugees.

"We are one of the most open-hearted countries in the world and I believe we have a moral responsibility to help," said British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

He did not say how many refugees would be accepted, but a spokeswoman for his office said "hundreds" were likely to be taken on a case-by-case basis in co-operation with the UN. "We're not going to be putting a finite number on this," she said.

Most of the 28 EU states have refused to take Syrian refugees. Spain has agreed to take just 30, while France has agreed to accept 500. Germany has been the most generous, offering to take 10,000 refugees.