Reconciliation by all sides the only way ahead for Syrian peace talks
The outlook for an international conference to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria, which has become known as Geneva II, remains as precarious as life in the country's civil war. Tangible progress towards power sharing in a transitional government as envisaged in the first Geneva accord is hard to imagine, given the irreconcilable positions taken by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition over whether the strongman should stay or go. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon threw the process into further public disarray by controversially inviting Assad ally Iran to a preliminary meeting today of foreign ministers, to Western dismay. He withdrew the invitation when Tehran reneged on what he claimed were assurances of a positive role in the internationally agreed goal of securing a political transition.
That is not a promising start to an attempt to end a three-year conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and driven more than 9.5 million from their homes. The political and military situations have changed a lot since the West envisaged a post-conflict settlement that did not include Assad and his henchmen, which gave them little enough reason to negotiate. Disunity among opposition groups has contributed to a battlefield stalemate and helped Assad consolidate his position. Meanwhile, the infiltration of the opposition ranks by radical groups has played on fears of terrorism in the West. This has done no harm to Assad's negotiating position; nor has his compliance with a pledge of chemical weapons disarmament following a gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
It would be a tragedy for the Syrian people if Geneva II collapsed, not least because that would do nothing to halt a humanitarian tragedy.
There are concerns about a division between Washington and Beijing, after China sided with Russia against removing Assad from power. But Foreign Minister Wang Yi is right to call for reconciliation among all parties to clear the way for enhanced international aid.