Main Players in the Geneva Peace Talks on Syria

Main Players in the Geneva Peace Talks on Syria

 A new round of talks to solve Syria's seven-year conflict starts on Tuesday (November 27) in Geneva after a string of military successes for government forces bolstered by a Russian intervention.

Previous peace discussions in Geneva have not achieved the results U.N. would like to see, but Syria’s recent successes on the battlefield could address the greatest barrier to now – the opposition’s calls for President Bashar al-Assad to go.

AFP reports the main players in the talks, which come after the divided opposition announced a unified negotiating committee, and as the conflict's new diplomatic masters Russia and Turkey push for a settlement.

Syrian regime

.Since the launch of negotiations on the Syrian crisis in Geneva in 2014, the Syrian regime has been represented by a delegation of political figures including its chief negotiator and U.N representative Bashar al-Jaafari.

At this new round of talks, the government is in perhaps its strongest position yet on the ground, thanks to advances made possible by a Russian military intervention that began in 2015.

The government now holds 55 percent of the country, territory where most of the population lives, and has scored successes against both rebels and the Islamic State (ISIS).

The government delegation has always rejected opposition calls for Assad's departure, saying Syrians should decide the leader’s future at the ballot box, and not during negotiations.

Instead, they propose discussions on a reworked constitution and parliamentary elections, and a "broadened" government that preserves the regime's core infrastructure.

The regime has so far refused to sit at the same table as the opposition, deriding some of its members as "terrorists" or saying they are too divided to represent a united negotiating partner.

The government's upper hand on the ground makes it unlikely they will arrive at these latest talks in a mood to compromise.

The regime representatives did not arrive for the opening of the talks on Tuesday, but the U.N. reports they will attend by Wednesday.  

Opposition

For the last two years, the opposition has been primarily represented in Geneva by the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which includes the key opposition Syrian National Coalition, as well as representatives of armed rebel groups.

Formed in December 2015 in Riyadh, the HNC has always insisted that Assad must step down at the beginning of any transitional period, with an executive body formed to oversee the following stages.

Backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States, the HNC presents itself as the sole legitimate political representative of the Syrian opposition.

Nevertheless, other opposition groups have participated in talks on a separate basis, including the so-called Cairo and Moscow Groups, which the HNC accuses of toeing a more conciliatory line on Assad's future.

This month, the different strands of the opposition met in Saudi Arabia to form a new delegation to attend the upcoming Geneva talks.

For the first time, they agreed on the formation of a unified committee of 36 members from across the opposition groups.

Eight members are from the National Coalition, with another four each from the Cairo Group and the Moscow Group. There are another seven rebel representatives.

Independents and other opposition groups take up thirteen other spots.

Nasr al-Hariri, who has served as opposition negotiator in previous rounds of talks will continue that role.

The committee's founding statement says it is willing to negotiate directly with the regime, though it continues to call for Assad's departure.

The Moscow Group has said it has "reservations" on that part of the committee's platform.

Staffan de Mistura

The U.N.'s special envoy on the Syria crisis Staffan de Mistura is an experienced diplomat who has joked that he suffers from "chronic optimism" despite the apparent intractability of Syria's conflict.

A dual Swiss-Italian national, he was named to a post once dubbed "mission impossible" by then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in July 2014.

He follows in the footsteps of two other seasoned diplomats, Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi, and former U.N. head Kofi Annan, both of whom quit after failing to make progress.

Since 2016, he has presided over seven rounds of talks in Geneva, sporting his trademark pince-nez and an old-world demeanour reminiscent of European diplomats from a century ago

He has at times raised eyebrows with his unorthodox ideas and pronouncements, including offering in 2016 to personally escort jihadists from besieged Aleppo in order to ease the crisis there.