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Geneva III, what has changed from previous Syria peace talks?

After two meetings in Geneva in 2012 and 2014 had failed to come up with a solution to the prolonged Syrian crisis, a third round of the talks in the Swiss capital is taking place.

However, the question remains if the new round is any different than its predecessors, analysts say.

New Developments

Ali Ahmad, consultant of the Syrian Information Minister, said at the times of the first meeting of Geneva, terrorism had not been that rampant, noting that the new meeting comes after the UN adopted resolutions on the need to counter terrorism and drying its sources.

"That's why the new conference is more than something related to the Syrian crisis, but the international coordination in the face of terrorism. It's true that the main focus is primarily about what is happening in Syria, but now the United State and Russia realize that solving the Syrian crisis is a key factor to curb the growing threat of terrorism," he said.

Another difference, Ahmad pointed out, is that the new meeting is taking place just a month after world powers, for the first time, agreed on a time-framed roadmap to resolve the Syrian crisis politically.

Last December, the Security Council endorsed a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, setting out an early-January timetable for United Nations-facilitated talks between the government and opposition members, as well as the outlines of a nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned had taken initial steps towards a political transition.

The roadmap also includes the formation of a new government and early elections.

Osama Danura, a political analyst, said there are differences between the third round and the previous ones on the ground, diplomatic and political levels as well as the public opinion.

"Let's start with the last one; the terrorist groups can no longer pretend that they represent the will of the Syrian people or represent a popular demand under the claims of revolution," he said.

The presence of the ultra-radical groups in some areas have become a "terrorist" occupation, Danura noted.

Regarding the political and international situation, things have witnessed a great and obvious shift in stances since the first and the second meetings in Geneva.

The regional powers had lobbied large numbers of countries before the previous meetings in the hope of bringing down the Syrian state, but now the number of the countries that still want the collapse of the Syrian state has shrunk after the U.S. itself backed down on this demand due to the growing threats of the terrorist groups and due to its reluctance to create a power vacuum in Syria, Danura continued.

Danura said the way the West looks at Syria has largely changed from the view of a hopeless opposition working to defend the Syrian people to the cannot-be-hide atrocities of the IS.

"Of course the emergence of IS was a result of the Western powers' delay in dealing with the terrorist groups and the support some countries rendered to this terrorist group," he said, adding that "after IS, things have totally changed."

Other factors that make the upcoming meeting different than the previous ones is the Iranian nuclear deal, which made Iran an influential power capable of imposing its will, as it's the main regional ally of the Syrian government.

The nuclear accord concluded last year between Tehran and the six world powers surely had positive impacts on the Syrian crisis, Danura told Xinhua.

He said the Syrian crisis witnessed a flurry of diplomatic talks and marathon meetings to reach a political solution after the signing of the nuclear deal.

Also, the Russian military intervention in Syria against IS and other radical groups has largely contributed to the change of the regional equation.

Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, which began on Sept. 30 of last year, has strengthened the Syrian government, laying the foundation for a dialogue with all countries concerned to come up with solutions that could drag Syria out of the internal conflict that has lasted for more than four years.

The Iranian nuclear deal with the West and the Russian military intervention in Syria has ended the western powers' monopoly on administrating the conflict in Syria, bringing a balance needed for bringing the conflict in Syria to a political end.

Unresolved Issues

Even though the circumstances in Syria have changed between the first two rounds of Geneva talks and the current one, analysts believe that the inter-regional disagreements about Syria are still unchanged.

Politically, the division among the opposition and the government, the regional players and the war of interests haven't changed much.

The relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have worsened, especially after the Saudi authorities executed a top Shiite cleric, which sparked the anger of Tehran and the Shiite people in general.

Such a tension was regarded by observers as an obstacle in the face of the Syrian solution, as Iran supports the regime of President Bashar al-Assad while Riyadh supports the insurgents.

Analysts also say the recently adopted roadmap doesn't get into the details of the solution, such as who will be leading the military and intelligence apparatus in the transitional period in Syria. Will the current regime and opposition share controlling such important institutions or not.

The most important detail that was overlooked in the recent Vienna talks is the fate al-Assad and his role in the future of Syria.

Militarily, there are three issues, the first is related with the international community's division about defining the terrorist groups in Syria in order to be fought.

Such a thorny issue hasn't been resolved ahead of the current talks, as some regional powers support several rebel groups in Syria, and thus such powers will not easily agree on a list of terrorist groups, aside from IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Achieving a ceasefire in Syria is also questionable, as the matter is harder than it looks, analysts say, noting that the formula of achieving such a ceasefire is still unclear.

The battle map in Syria is also changing quickly, Isam Samer, a political analyst said, noting that the Syrian army is making notable change in the control map in Syria, attacking recently many key rebel-held areas in strategic Syrian cities, such as in Latakia and Aleppo in the north and Daraa in the south.

The rebels are also unleashing counter offensives in the hope of achieving gains in poetics.

Samer said the Syrian arena is witnessing intense battles on all fronts in the warring sides' hope to achieve territorial gains in order to empower their stances in the Geneva meeting.

One of the major issues that have remained unchanged is the division among the opposition groups, such division is translated into a schism between the political opposition groups and the tens of rebel groups on ground.

The lack of coordination among the opposition factions also makes it hard for such a party to be able to give promises or achieve any part of any deal on ground, analysts believe.

[Source: By Hummam Sheikh Ali, Xinhua, Damascus, 31Jan16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 01Feb16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.