(MONTREUX, Switzerland) — Day One of what is supposed to be a summit to find a peaceful solution to the three-year-long Syrian civil war was contentious to say the least.
The real negotiations don’t begin until Friday in Geneva but if Wednesday’s preliminary meeting was any indication, there may be little anyone can do at this stage to stop the conflict that has cost an estimated 120,000 lives and uprooted millions of Syrians from their homes.
As diplomats and delegations arrived in Montreux, Switzerland, the main bone of contention remains President Bashar al-Assad’s future. In short, the U.S., its allies and the Syrian opposition want him out of the picture in order to establish a transitional government.
Secretary of State John Kerry said as much, telling reporters, “The resolution to this crisis cannot be about one man’s insistence or one family’s insistence about clinging to power. This needs to be about empowering all of the Syrian people.”
However, Damascus remains adamant that whatever happens in Geneva won’t change the long-standing regime of Assad, who most blame for causing the conflict and for the emergence of radical Islamist groups in Syria.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told reporters, “There will be no transfer of power and President Bashar Assad is staying.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tried to paint the best possible picture after a distressing day, saying, “We have taken a first small step here in Montreux. We will take another step on Friday when the two Syrian parties will sit down to talk. We have a difficult road ahead.”
In the interim, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi is speaking to delegations sent by Assad and the main opposition to lay groundwork for Friday’s talks.
There is no guarantee that the warring factions will even be in the same room in Geneva.
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