The Geneva 2 talks on delivering a solution that ends the long civil war in Syria might have been over-ambitious to begin with. But then, bringing representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Syrian opposition together in the same room is an achievement in itself. Nevertheless, Syria's government and opposition didn't talk to each other and instead made angry speeches. Given what transpired in that large room, a note of sobriety is in order for the United Nations-brokered talks that begin on Friday.
The failure of the combined efforts of three top diplomats—UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov—to persuade the warring sides to set aside the dispute over origins (who started the bloodshed, etc) and to concentrate on ending the violence, meant that the focus had to shift from the big political questions to concrete and practical measures, such as local truces and safe conduct for aid convoys essential to ease the suffering of civilians.
An immediate peace deal is not on the agenda. Nor is Geneva 2 likely to hold the Assad regime responsible for atrocities, despite the report released on Monday by a panel of jurists based on 55,000 images smuggled out of Syria depicting the state’s “crimes against humanity”. In fact, the Obama administration tied itself up in knots over Syria. First, by refusing a timely intervention that could have saved lives and precluded the extremist takeover of the rebel ranks. Second, by threatening action too late, only to see Russia get the credit for a deal on Assad's chemical weapons. Geneva 2 has been overshadowed by the ham-fisted invitation to Assad’s ally Iran and then, the withdrawal of the same invitation. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi isn't sure if he can get the two sides to negotiate on even the smaller measures. Without close monitoring, even this agenda can collapse.