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Syrian Peace Talks Off To Heated Start

Diplomats are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland Wednesday with the hopes of ending the nearly three-year-long conflict.
Posted at 8:35 AM, Jan 22, 2014

​​​After a tense round of initial talks Wednesday, few are optimistic the long-awaited Syrian ​peace talks are going to accomplish much of anything.

BAN KI-MOON: "This conference is your opportunity to show unity behind the need for a political solution." (Via BBC

Diplomats from more than two dozen countries are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland Wednesday with the hopes of ending the nearly three-year-long conflict that’s left more than 150,000 dead and millions homeless. (Via CNN

The main Western-backed opposition group — the Syrian National Coalition — wants a transitional government to replace Assad — though Assad’s made clear he has no intention of stepping down. (Via Flickr / Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Wikimedia Commons /F abio Rodrigues Pozzebom / Abr

Arguably because he has the upper hand. In recent months, his forces have advanced into rebel-held areas of northern Syria, drastically turning the tide of the war. (Via Channel 4

As The Wall Street Journal puts it: “The Assad regime has little incentive to deal because it believes it is winning the war...”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday there was no way Assad could have a role in a transitional government.  

KERRY: "One man and the those who have supported him can no longer hold a country hostage.” (Via United Nations

What followed were more tense exchanges between Syria’s Foreign Minister, who said the U.S. had no right to meddle in the affairs of his country, and the head of the opposition who said they’d been given no choice but to take up arms and fight. (Via Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Judging by the first round of talks, many observers say chances of both sides negotiating a transitional government look slim, which is why they might take a more piecemeal approach to ending the standoff.

JAMES BAYS: "I think what they’re going to start with are more minor steps — still very difficult to achieve — possibly prisoner releases, prisoner exchanges, local ceasefires, humanitarian access." (Via AlJazeera

Western leaders also downplayed the summit’s likelihood of success. While they spent a lot of political capital organizing the summit, critics call it all little more than a photo-op for the international community.

A former State Department adviser on Syria told USA Today: "The situation in Syria is so intractable that (Western) leaders really feel the need to be seen as doing something … The something they're doing right now is calling for a conference in Switzerland that they earnestly hope will produce good results. But hope is not a plan."

The summit Wednesday will involve foreign ministers from about 40 different countries. On Friday, a much smaller group, including members of the Syrian government and regime opponents will meet for the first time face-to-face.