Assad's representatives and the opposition are joining the Syria peace talks in Geneva, but they will not sit at the same table. The chances of success are slim, but US and Russian influence could be a force for good.
DW: Representatives of Syria's opposition are traveling to Geneva today. Is that in itself a success?
Günter Meyer: That is undoubtedly already an initial success, which was not certain on Friday. The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which represents the most important Syrian opposition group, stipulated the fulfilment of humanitarian requirements before it took part in the Geneva peace talks.
They said that they would only be willing to go to Geneva if the air raids on civilian targets ceased and humanitarian aid was promised for the regions controlled by the Assad regime. However, after the US in particular insisted on negotiations without preconditions, the opposition group has finally given in and agreed to take part in the "political process."
What do the parties expect to accomplish in Geneva?
The resolution adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council in December provides for an 18-month timetable to settle the war in Syria. In the first six months, after an immediate cessation of attacks on civilian targets, a credible transitional government is to be formed. It must include all parties and not be put together on a sectarian basis. At the end of the political process, free and fair elections will be held under UN supervision.
Is the plan realistic?
Foreign governments that support or fight against the Assad regime have realized that there will be no military solution in this war. At the same time, the refugee crisis has grown so massively that the pressure is as great as ever on the involved parties to end the war as soon as possible. Nevertheless, it is highly doubtful that both the Syrian players and their foreign supporters will be willing to set aside their own interests in favor of a peaceful solution.
Are there still parties in this war that believe they do not need to negotiate because of their military superiority?
Iranian and Hezbollah ground troops, and especially Russian air strikes in recent weeks, have helped the Syrian Army make significant territorial gains against the various rebel groups. For the time being, the Assad regime is, thus, likely to have little interest in an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Neither are "Islamic State" or the al-Nusra Front...
The terrorist organization "Islamic State" and the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al Qaeda, are excluded from the negotiations anyway. But other radical Islamist militia groups such as " Ahrar ash-Sham," part of the "Army of Conquest," which is backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, will not be particularly interested in laying down their arms.
So is it unlikely that the peace talks will be successful?
Right now, at the beginning of the negotiations, the obstacles on the way to a peaceful settlement still appear insurmountable. Nevertheless, there is at least a slight chance that the US's influence, on the one hand, and Russia's, on the other, can force the national and regional warring parties to back down. But this is in no way certain.
Professor Günter Meyer is the head of the Center for Research on the Arab World (CERAW) at the University of Mainz in Germany.