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Since 2012 there has been a political strand to efforts to end the violence in Syria, when there was a meeting at the United Nations in Geneva that produced a communiqué calling for a ceasefire, negotiations and a transitional government, and elections.

The Geneva Communiqué has formed the basis for negotiations since then but it has always been plagued by differences over who should form the transitional government and who should negotiate with whom.

The latest meetings took place in Vienna, with the inclusion of Iran for the first time. This development results largely from the success of Iran’s negotiations with the world powers over its nuclear programme. On the ground, the dynamics have also changed, with Russia taking direct military action and Iran more deeply committed.

Together with a series of ISIS-linked terrorist attacks outside Syria, the latest being in Paris, these factors are giving the talks a new and different impulse, but the negotiations did not include any Syrians. The outside forces at the talks remain divided over the fate of Bashar al-Assad, which rebel groups constitute the legitimate opposition and which are terrorists. Even with those questions agreed, getting Syrians to support a political process would be difficult.

At the end of January 2016 the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura tried to convene talks between the Syrian government and representatives of the opposition. In the end, the process was suspended until 25 February, having failed to bring about any ‘proximity’ talks.

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