Long-anticipated negotiations toward resolving the Syrian civil war will begin Jan. 22 in Geneva, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced Monday.
"At long last and for the first time, the Syrian government and opposition will meet at the negotiation table rather than the battlefield," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference.
As CNN reported:
While he called the U.N.-brokered meeting a "mission of hope" and called on both sides to cease violence and release detainees in preparation for the talks, he did not say which parties will attend -- a subject that helped push back the conference for months.
Ban declined to answer questions regarding his statement or elaborate on which opposition groups would attend, but he said Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League special envoy to Syria, would answer questions in Geneva later in the day.
The "Geneva 2" conference, so named because it's designed to build on a communique issued at an earlier meeting in the Swiss city, is a U.S.-Russian effort at getting opposition forces to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in hopes of hammering out a transfer of authority to a mutually agreed upon interim governing body.
The Geneva 2 summit has been delayed time and again, with both sides setting unrealistic conditions for talks. Mainly, however, it's been the Syrian opposition's internal disarray and reluctance to come to the table that's held up plans.
Opposition leaders, mainly exiles who already suffer a credibility deficit because of their lack of authority on the ground, are under enormous pressure from their Western backers to participate in the Geneva process, which is widely viewed among Syrian rebel supporters as illegitimate and unrealistic. Some of the more militant Islamist rebel factions have even pledged retaliation attacks for Syrians who participate in the Geneva talks.
But others view the conference as a last-ditch effort to resolve the conflict, which is locked in a bloody stalemate after nearly three years of warfare.
The Obama administration, which has narrowed its strategic interest in Syria to chemical weapons removal, is pushing for a negotiated resolution to the conflict. Such an outcome would ease the international pressure on the White House for more direct intervention, such as military strikes, to change the course of the war.
Secretary of State John Kerry released this statement about the date for Geneva 2:
We have long underscored that there is no military solution to the violence in Syria that has taken more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions. The conference on January 22 is the best opportunity to implement the Geneva Communiqué and form a new transitional governing body through mutual consent—an important step toward ending the suffering of the Syrian people and the destabilizing impact of this conflict on the region.
This horrific conflict began as a peaceful protest by Syrians who aspire to live in a country where freedom, dignity, and equal treatment under the law are protected. Now, in order to end the bloodshed and give the Syrian people a chance to meet their long-deferred aspirations, Syria needs new leadership.
We are well aware that the obstacles on the road to a political solution are many, and we will enter the Geneva conference on Syria with our eyes wide open. No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead. In the coming weeks, the regime and the opposition will need to form their delegations, and we will continue to work in concert with the UN and our partners on remaining issues, including which countries will be invited to attend and what the agenda will be to advance the Geneva Communiqué framework for political transition.
To contain the growing threat from extremism and foreign fighters within Syria, and to ensure respect for Syria’s territorial sovereignty, we cannot delay the work of establishing a transitional government. Since foreign states have considerable influence on the factions waging war within Syria, they too have an important role to play. While it is ultimately up to the Syrian people to form a new government and bring an end to the conflict, the United States and our partners can help get them there.The thousands of men, women, and children suffering in Syria today cannot wait for us to meet in Geneva for their cries to be heard. The Assad regime must stop using starvation as a weapon of war and immediately begin providing greater humanitarian access to besieged communities. The international community must be proactive and diligent in drawing greater attention to this issue and putting the necessary pressure in place to change behavior on the ground.