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Issue Guide: What Geneva II Means for Syria

Author: Zachary Laub, Associate Writer
January 24, 2014

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After prolonged discord over who would participate in the Geneva II peace talks on Syria, negotiators from Bashar al-Assad's government and the political opposition in exile have convened along with world powers in the Swiss town of Montreux. The June 2012 communiqué that formed the basis for these talks calls for "a transitional governing body with full executive powers" formed with the consent of both the regime and opposition, but analysts say the most likely outcome is not a negotiated settlement but humanitarian relief for civilians. The following background and analysis offers a guide to the talks, which resumed in Geneva on Friday amid uncertainty over whether the parties would meet face to face.

Geneva II UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon leads the opening of the Geneva II peace conference in Montreux, Switzerland. (Photo: Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters)
Dim Prospects for a Settlement in Switzerland

NYT: An Invitation to Geneva II
New York Times
reporters annotate the UN secretary-general's letter to Geneva II invitees.

Statements Before High-Level Meeting in Montreux
The UN compiled statements at the Geneva II conference's opening session.

New Republic: America Must Stand Firm on Syria at the Geneva II Conference
Former ambassador Frederic Hof writes that with Iran and Russia doubling down in support of the Assad regime, the United States must be unequivocal in its demands for a political transition in Damascus.

Washington Post: Ending Syrians' Suffering
David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee says even if a negotiated settlement is out of reach, the parties should work to ease the humanitarian crisis facing Syrians.

Foreign Policy: Could Discussing Humanitarian Issues Lead to Disaster at the Geneva II Talks?
The recent push to shift attention from a political transition to "palliative agreements" on humanitarian issues at Geneva will make prospects for the conflict's resolution more remote, argues Steven Heydemann, a Syria expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Al-Jazeera America: Why Syria's Assad Enters Geneva Talks in a Position of Strength
Scholar Joshua Landis writes that as Assad's delegation goes to Geneva with the upper hand, he is unlikely to compromise, and Syria will remain effectively partitioned.

CFR Interview: Small Steps to Syrian Transition?
Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Edward P. Djerejian says that talks focused on limited cease-fires, prisoner exchanges, and aid corridors now may lay the groundwork for future negotiations toward a political transition.

Al-Jazeera: Great Expectations?
While "political negotiations are the only game in town," the state of Syria's political opposition complicates the prospects of a peace agreement, writes Middle East Institute scholar Randa Slim.

Who's Not at the Table?

Carnegie Endowment: The Politics of the Islamic Front
The Islamic Front, a group of opposition factions that oppose both the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and the more radical Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, rejects the Geneva process.

Al-Monitor: Syrian Kurds Feel Left Out of Geneva II
Syria's Kurds, who have carved out an enclave in the country's northeast largely insulated from the civil war, were denied a delegation of their own.

Reuters: The UN Invitation That Nearly Undid Syria Peace Talks
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon invited Iran to participate in Geneva II—which might have caused the Syrian opposition to pull out—and then promptly withdrew the invitation under U.S. pressure.

If Not Geneva, Then What?

Project Syndicate: Stopping the Syria Contagion
Peace brokers must change the parties' incentives to prioritize the protection of civilians, and the Obama administration must hold out the credible threat of force to bolster the moderate opposition vis-à-vis al-Qaeda-linked groups and the Assad regime, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation.

Foreign Affairs: Winning the Peace by Failing in Geneva
Former State Department officials Jeremy Shapiro and Samuel Charap argue that if Assad blocks a settlement at Geneva II, Russia may move toward greater cooperation with the United States, and together they can facilitate a political resolution among regional supporters of the regime and opposition.

Foreign Affairs: Hope Springs in Syria?
Local efforts to end the siege laid to opposition-held areas have led to many small-scale cease-fires. They are "the best chance for peace in the short term," writes journalist Hassan Hassan, who says the Geneva talks should lay the groundwork to enact them nationwide.

On the Ground in Syria

Washington Institute: Assad's Indispensable Foreign Legions
The Assad regime's attempt to frame the civil war as a battle against "foreign terrorists" obscures the fact that there are at least as many foreigners fighting for the regime as against it, writes Washington Institute defense fellow Jeffrey White.

European Council on Foreign Relations: Syria's Uprising Within an Uprising
Journalist Rania Abouzeid describes the battlefield setbacks to the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS by more moderate opposition groups in rebel-held territory.

Guardian: Document Trove Shows Evidence of 'Industrial Scale' Killing of Detainees
Photographs smuggled out of Syria by a regime defector and released on the eve of the Geneva II talks could, if confirmed, be evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, demonstrating the regime's systematic torture and execution of its opponents.

Human Rights Watch: World Report 2014
The Syrian government "indiscriminately attacked civilians in areas held by the armed opposition," writes Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. "The fear of doing anything that might dissuade Damascus from participating in Geneva II has become the latest excuse for not putting real pressure on Syria."

Buzzfeed: The Speech That Changed Syria
Middle East correspondent Mike Giglio recounts how decisions made by Assad in 2011 transformed peaceful demonstrations into the largely sectarian civil war it is today.

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