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Failure of Syria Talks Signal Conflict May Be Long Struggle

The Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (C) stands with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov (R) and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns as they meet at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 11, 2013.
As senior U.S. and Russian negotiators - along with the United Nations peace envoy - again failed to find a breakthrough in Syria talks on Friday, analysts say a solution could be a long time coming.

​Through the 21-plus months of Syria's civil war, there has been no shortage of diplomacy, but a significant shortage of progress.

Attacks from both sides continue to destroy Syria's cities and towns, kill tens of thousands of people, and leave hundreds of thousands as refugees in mud-soaked camps in neighboring countries.

"There's little sign that we're any closer to any political solution to this crisis," said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. "Because there are divisions in the international community between the United States and Russia, between key regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is not a core constituency who are pushing for one single solution to the crisis in Syria."

Failure of Latest Talks Signal Syrian Conflct May Be Long Struggle
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains defiant, as he did during a recent speech in front of enthusiastic supporters in Damascus.

Assad's eroding support

But Doyle and other experts say there is some erosion in Mr. Assad's international support. His friends in Moscow are signaling a willingness to see him fall, indicating they would accept an orderly transition as long as Russia's relationship with a new Syrian government is assured.

Analyst Anthony Skinner of the Maplecroft consulting firm said that is why Russia is more willing to deal with the Syrian opposition.

"Russia is hedging its bets,” he said. “It hasn't fundamentally changed its position, but it's trying to establish a greater channel of communication and develop relations with the opposition."

The Iranian factor

But Skinner said the situation is quite different for Syria's other main foreign supporter, Iran.

"The relationship between Tehran and Damascus is so fundamental to the regime in Iran, in terms of its own agenda domestically and also in the region at large, that it would not make sense for it to engage in a massive reversal," he said.

The experts do not see any dramatic change in the Syria deadlock any time soon. But Chris Doyle puts some of the onus on the opposition and the West.

"We need a transition process,” Doyle said. “If it means that the president has to be there, even as a symbolic figure, for some months before he is ushered out, maybe that is something the parties need to consider in order to find a way out."

Doyle said without some sort of dramatic change on one or both sides, the fighting could drag on indefinitely, and there may be little left of Syria for whoever wins.​