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Major Powers to Take Bigger Role in Syria Talks

  • Al Pessin

Senior U.S. and Russian officials are to take a bigger role in the U.N.-sponsored talks on Syria's future that reconvened in Geneva Monday. The move comes as the Syrian government and opposition delegations remain far apart on how to end the nearly three-year-long civil war.

It was a familiar sight as the U.N. and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi arrived for another round of talks. The opposition and government delegations held separate sessions with the mediator, who canceled his usual news conference.

The U.N. says the talks covered scheduling and the agenda for meetings expected to continue while the negotiators await a U.S.-Russia meeting on Friday. Those countries are the main backers of the two sides, but until now their delegations in Geneva had played a behind-the-scenes role.

Middle East expert Reinoud Leenders of London's King's College says the big powers, which are trying to manage the Syrian transition more effectively than they were able to manage other recent changes in the region, face significant obstacles.

"You get a sense they are trying to learn from mistakes in the past," Leenders said. "The real obstacle is on the ground, given the rather complex situation."

That situation–which involves Syrian government troops and a variety of opposition forces, including al-Qaida-affiliated militants–makes it difficult to make any progress, even on humanitarian issues.

International pressure finally forced some relief over the weekend for people in the city of Homs, which is besieged by government forces. That had been a major topic of discussion during the first round of the Geneva talks two weeks ago.

But experts say much more humanitarian relief is needed there and elsewhere. And they say the difficulty of negotiating even a short-term truce in Homs shows yet again just how hard it will be to reach the talks' main goal–a political settlement to end the war.