Map of Syria
U.N. sponsored peace talks on Syria's civil war are about to begin today in Montreux, Switzerland then move to U.N. headquarters in Geneva on Friday.
Some 40 nations will take part including representatives from Syria's Bashar Assad's government as well as those from the Syrian opposition that have been seeking to topple the Assad regime.
Conspicuously absent from the talks will be Iran, first invited to participate by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon then quickly rescinded over intense pressure coming from the U.S. The reason given; Iran refused to sign onto the pre-condition that Assad must step down and a transitional government be installed to take his place.
That Ban Ki-moon was "persuaded" to withdraw his invitation to Iran by the arm twisting of the U.S., the day before the delegates arrived, put a cloud over the upcoming proceedings even before they began.
The Russian's put on a brave face calling Ban's about face "a mistake, but not a catastrophe." So the talks will proceed.
But has there ever been a diplomatic setting to end a civil war so fraught with pessimism before it begins is hard to recall.
To begin with, the Assad government has never accepted the idea of stepping down while accepting a transitional government as a pre-condition to the talks.
Meanwhile the Syrian opposition to Assad which began some 3 years ago as a solely indigenous Syrian Sunni rebellion has since been overtaken and co-opted by foreign Sunni radical militant groups entering the country causing severe internal division among the opposition which itself has been accused of committing atrocities against the Syrian people; an accusation the western corporate media has constantly accused the Assad regime of solely committing.
As to the "opposition" represented at these talks they're presumably the indigenous Syrians that initially took up arms against the Assad regime, not the Sunni foreign radicals that entered the country within months after resistance against Assad began. They appear to want no cease fire, no end to the fighting and seek a regime based on Sharia Law that would replace Assad; a condition most indigenous Syrians would most likely oppose.
Since the summer, after Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons arsenal and avert an American aerial strike on government installations, his forces have increasingly made military gains in areas once controlled by the insurgents and he has even said in a recent interview he is considering running for re-election this year when his current term expires, hardly an indication he is ready to step down.
So this whole idea of his stepping down with a transitional government taking his place, the original purpose of this conference that was outlined in a 2012 summit in Geneva is not likely to happen. In fact the Syrian foreign minister heading the Assad government's delegation to these talks, Wald al-Moallem rejected any discussion of Assad's future saying, "The subject of the president and the regime is a red line for us and the Syrian people and will not be touched".
Thus the 2012 pre-condition that Assad must step down with a transitional government taking his place is now only enforced to keep Iran out of the talks; the one country that has real influence over Assad which could have possibly helped bring a diplomatic compromise to the proceedings, maybe even a cease fire that could begin to end the civil war. Thus a potential accord with Iran playing a key role has been snuffed out by U.S. mischief and myopia.
Yet Saudi Arabia, the primary financial backer and supplier of weapons to the Syrian opposition, including the radical Sunni militants not indigenous to Syria and the primary adversary against Shiite Iran will be a part of this "peace" conference.
It's hard to imagine this conclave in Switzerland managing to do anything to bring a cease fire, much less end the civil war in Syria.