Syrian peace talks is due to start in Switzerland, with events and comments preceding the official opening leave close to no hope of a major breakthrough, other than bringing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition to the same table.
International diplomats and Syria’s warring sides arrived for the crucial peace conference which kicks off in the town of Montreux on Lake Geneva on Wednesday, after months of wrangling that had threatened to derail the talks up until the last minute.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called upon all sides involved in Syria’s bloody civil war to “seize the chance” for peace.
Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican which sent a delegation, said; “just the fact they are meeting and beginning to talk is something”.
Other international officials were careful not to raise hopes.
“I don’t think anyone who’s dealt with Syrian officials has any false expectations of rapid progress,” a senior US State Department official said.
“Everybody has to understand that this is the beginning of a process. It’s not going to be fast. It’s very bitter fighting on the ground. And so there’s going to be an absolute requirement for patience and for persistence,” the official added.
There were stark reminders of the Syrian conflict’s impact in the run-up to the talks, with a bombing in Beirut that left four dead and new evidence alleging that Assad’s forces have systematically killed and tortured thousands.
The Geneva 2 conference managed to override a diplomatic spat between allies of the Syrian regime and the UN over a last-minute reversal which saw the organisation’s leader Ban Ki-moon withdraw an invitation to Iran, less than 24 hours after he had announced it.
Syria’s opposition had threatened to boycott the talks if Iran, a key backer of the Assad regime, took part. West-backed opposition camp the Syrian National Coalition had threatened the same if Iran attended.