Fourth time lucky? Geneva peace talks

Fourth time lucky? Geneva peace talks

Syria’s warring factions will again head to Geneva on Thursday for UN-backed peace talks a mere week after similar Russian-brokered

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Syria’s warring factions will again head to Geneva on Thursday for UN-backed peace talks a mere week after similar Russian-brokered efforts in Astana. As has been the case for years, the fate of Bashar al-Assad remains the key stumbling block.

There has been confusion over the exact scope of discussions; the term ‘political transition’ – a euphemism for Assad’s removal – was noticeably absent from the agenda until Tuesday. Its late inclusion suggests that threats by opposition representatives to boycott the talks may have proved persuasive.

But more generally, the political clout of rebel groups is dwindling. Opposition factions have lost significant territory in recent months and wavering support from Turkey and the US, two major external backers, is causing anxiety.

While Washington has assured rebels that any cooperation with Russia will take their interests into account, the Trump administration has made it clear that its top priority is defeating ISIS, not Assad.

Bringing rebel and regime representatives to the table for face-to-face discussions may be the most ambitious milestone that Thursday’s talks can achieve, but even this has been plunged into uncertainty.

Dig deeper: A ceasefire in Syria: challenges and opportunities