Tenuous peace negotiations are ongoing between the Assad government and a representative of the Syrian opposition in Geneva, supervised by Russia.
Russia is playing head diplomat within the United Nations-backed peace talks, which have had a rocky track record over the past few years. Historically, these peace talks have done nothing to abate the fighting and violence throughout Syria.
In these latest rounds of talks, a key sticking point has been the transition of power within the Syrian government. In past negotiations, representatives of the Syrian opposition have insisted that any peace deal would require the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from the government.
Assad officials have soundly refused to concede that point, arguing that the issue is a ‘red line’ for the government.
With the United States slowly backing away from the diplomatic peace process between the Assad government and the myriad opposition groups to focus almost exclusively on combating the Islamic State, Russia has entered into the unlikely role of diplomatic peacemaker.
Although given Russia’s continued military support to Assad government forces as they slowly retake Syria from the opposition, it remains to be seen how seriously Russia is taking the process of peace negotiations.
Since peace talks began in Geneva last year, most observers believe Russia and the Assad government are not taking peace overtures seriously.
Since both sides appear to be intractable over the issue of Assad remaining in power, talks have instead focused more on minutiae concerning ‘political transition’ and future elections.
Some critics have pointed to the absence of America as key to the failure of the latest rounds of negotiations. Secretary of State John Kerry worked hard to affect a Syrian cease-fire to no avail, as fighting resumed shortly afterwards.
But given the nature of the war and the course it has taken, the presence of the United States would make little impact on these talks.
The Syrian opposition is represented by the High Negotiations Committee, a group founded by many members of the pre-Civil War Syrian government in Saudi Arabia. Given that Assad is now in the best position for eventual victory over the opposition, and the general state of cold war between Iran and the Saudis, it seems extremely unlikely that negotiations between the two parties in Geneva will go anywhere meaningful.
Image courtesy of Reuters