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DEAD END

The Geneva II summit on Syria ended almost exactly where it had started — on the promise of more talks. This time the parties that had come to the table found even less common ground than in the previous summit. In fact, hopes of Russia’s cooperation, generated only months ago when it pushed Syria to agree to the destruction of its chemical weapons, were dashed when Russia proved intractable in the negotiations to facilitate a wider reach of humanitarian relief in Syria. The war of words on relief operations would have turned Geneva II into an abysmal failure had it not been for the agreement, worked out entirely on a local level among the representatives of the United Nations, rebels and the Syrian government, to allow the aid convoy into Homs. With the violence escalating as government troops seize more and more rebel territory, aid to either Homs or Yarmouk could turn out to be a minor victory. There is no consensus yet on the deal that had been worked out in Geneva I about a transition government. Russia opposes any move to make Bashar al-Assad step down. The Western powers, particularly the United States of America, which had initially insisted on this as a starting point to resolve the conflict, are no longer insistent. The radicalization of the rebel movement and the rise of al Qaida affiliates have forced the US to change tack and think of what might lie ahead if the Assad regime collapsed. That is exactly how the Assad regime has always wanted the world to think.

The rethink, however, has created the same complications as in Afghanistan, where the US has long held that a military advantage is necessary to force the opponent into a compromise at the negotiating table. The US is now believed to have dropped its objections to rebels being supplied advanced weapons by Arab nations. With the rebels divided and often at cross-purposes, there can be little doubt where more arms will lead Syria, which has already seen hundreds of thousands die in the past three years.