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Week in Review: Geneva Talks Hit an Impasse, Amid Other Moving Parts

The second round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva closed with an air of failure this weekend.

Written by Lara Setrakian Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

“I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people,” Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief negotiator working on behalf of the U.N. and the Arab League. “I apologize to them that on these two rounds [of peace talks] we haven’t helped them very much.”

There was no date set for a follow up meeting, no constructive engagement to build on. Trust between the regime and the opposition, already hovering around nil, fell further when it surfaced that Syria’s government had put some of the opposition negotiators on a terrorism blacklist, seizing their assets at home.

This in a week where Syria’s death toll topped 140,000 people, by activists counts. An extended humanitarian ceasefire in Homs did little for aid conditions at large;by Friday some 1,000 civilians were still trapped under siege in the Old City, after roughly 1,500 were evacuated, according to Sam Dagher of the Wall Street Journal. His Twitter feed from Syria offered live updates and color from the operation.

Barrel bombs, the Syrian government’s crudely-formed cluster munitions, continued to rain death on Aleppo. With a stated purpose to stop them, Saudi Arabia agreed to send antiaircraft missiles to Syrian rebel fighters (a move that U.S. Senator John McCain said was “about time”). On the disarmament front, a U.S. company was named one of two entities chosen to help incinerate Syria’s chemical weapons, an estimated 1,200-ton stockpile.

But still, all is not lost on the diplomatic front. The U.S. bears signs that it’s undergoing a fundamental rethink of Syria policy, from President Barack Obama’s new tone on Syria to veteran commentator Aaron David Miller’s analysis of Syria strategy through the lens of America’s aspirational engagement with Iran. Reuters saw a leaked copy of the Syrian opposition’s political transition plan, which lays out suggested steps toward a handover of power (while muzzling or at least avoiding mention of their demands for the immediate removal President Bashar al Assad).

While Russia effectively blocked a humanitarian aid resolution that would have come before the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. and Russia maintain a parallel dialogue over what to do in Syria. It is their eventual consensus – if they can find one – that would determine the success of any future peace talks.

The question underpinning a solution in Syria remains whether and when Russia will exert pressure on the Assad regime, sufficient to move it into a managed political transition. The corollary: whether and when Iran will be brought on board to back the change. Both Russia and Iran have strategic reasons to keep backing Assad, and both have said they have every intention to do so (as has Hezbollah). But geopolitical realities can shift dramatically, as the U.S. and Iran do their diplomatic dance and Russia has to confront the regime’s performance in Geneva, roundly criticized as intransigent and unconstructive. If Geneva succeeded in anything it was in bringing those dynamics to the fore, as the greater forces shaping Syria’s future.

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