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Middle east

Five things to know about the Geneva 2 peace talks

© Photo: AFP

Text by Amara MAKHOUL

Latest update : 2014-01-22

Diplomats from around the world gathered in Switzerland on Wednesday ahead of talks aimed at ending almost three years of conflict in Syria. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the key issues on the table and whether any of them can be resolved.

The so-called Geneva 2 talks aimed at negotiating peace in Syria began in Montreux on Wednesday. No one has expected a breakthrough and organizers have struggled to bring the myriad factions together. Tensions are high.

The country’s bitter war, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011, has so far killed more than 100,000 people and created as many as 8 million refugees, displaced both within and outside Syria’s borders. As the conflict approaches its third year, many war-weary Syrians are anxious for the negotiations to succeed.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government is strongly opposed to the wishes of the opposition, who will accept nothing less than his departure from office. Within the opposition itself there are growing factional rifts.

So what can possibly be achieved in Geneva?

Building on Geneva 1

Geneva 2, launched with the support of the United States and Russia, aims to bring representatives of Assad’s government and the opposition to the negotiating table, but also pick up where Geneva 1, held in June 2012, left off.

The final text from the first gathering called for the creation of a transitional government with full powers. The sticking point remains Assad’s role in any future Syrian government, and his departure has long been the opposition’s pre-condition for talks. The Damascus regime continues to dismiss this scenario outright.

Opposition infighting

Delegates from around 40 countries, including France and Britain, have a broadly shared vision of a peace initiative.  However, the Syrian opposition has come to Geneva 2 as divided as ever.

The western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is the official representative of the opposition. However, the Syrian National Council, the main group within the SNC, announced at the eleventh hour that it would not attend. The Coalition only represents a fraction of the anti-Assad camp.

Other notable absentees

Geneva 2 has been boycotted by powerful Sunni militias, who control wide swaths of Syria’s territory and see the SNC as traitors. The main Kurdish faction, which controls a large parts of the country’s northwest, was not invited.

Iran, a key ally of the Syrian regime that has dispatched its own fighters to reinforce Assad's forces, is also conspicuously absent. Tehran’s influence in the conflict is unquestionable, but its participation at Geneva 2 has been controversial. With talks threatening to collapse before they ever started, the UN rescinded the Islamic Republic’s invitation.

‘Recognising’ Assad

While Western powers have stated that the goal of Geneva 2 is to form a new transitional government, they are under no illusions as to Assad's determination to remain in power, according to Fabrice Balanche, director of the French-based Mediterranean and Middle East Research Group (GREMMO)

In fact, the US and its European allies have in part already recognised Assad’s legitimacy.

“In a way Geneva 2 already took place in September, when Russian and American leaders negotiated the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapon stocks in exchange for keeping Assad in power. And integrating them into the talks, means recognising their legitimacy,” Balanche noted.

De-escalate violence

According to Balanche and others, the only possible positive achievement at the talks would be a decline in hostilities.

While Western powers will likely put pressure on Turkey and Saudi Arabia to cut back financial support to the rebels, Russia and Iran may try to convince Damascus to reduce the intensity of its military strikes. A decrease in violence would help curb the staggering death toll, and also allow humanitarian agencies to provide relief to civilians and refugees in desperate need of help.

Live on France 24

Date created : 2014-01-22

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