All the players have their own agendas, and none seems to involve a ceasefire… just yet
The best hope for an end to the killing in Syria is for the United States and Russia to push both sides in the conflict to agree a ceasefire in which each holds the territory it currently controls. In a civil war of such savagery, diplomacy with any ambition to determine who holds power in future will founder because both sides believe they can still win. There appeared to be an opportunity for productive talks after it was announced on 7 May that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had agreed to hold a peace conference on Syria in Geneva. The US, Russia and Iran could see themselves being sucked into an ever more violent conflict and one that is rapidly spreading. It is destabilising Syria’s neighbours in Jordan and Lebanon as Shia and Sunni support opposing sides. Even Turkey’s new-found prosperity is vulnerable as a result of its whole-hearted backing for Syria’s rebels.
However, the chance of any talks taking place in Geneva have dimmed in the past few days. The Syrian opposition has rejected the idea, though its intentions are very much determined by its paymasters in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Going by the evidence of their own leaders, the rebels, inside and outside Syria, are so divided and dysfunctional they may not be in the business of talking to anybody.
Even if the opposition were better organised, they might still not want to talk. One of its leaders said: “We have to make the removal of the regime fundamental to any political solution.” This may sound obvious, but an unstated part of opposition policy is that they can only win if the West and its allies among the Sunni states of the Middle East decide on massive military involvement to remove President Bashar al-Assad. They want a Libyan-type solution in which Assad would be overthrown, as was Muammar Gaddafi by Nato in 2011, with the rebels conducting a well-publicised mopping up.