GAZIANTEP, TURKEY - Political opposition leaders and rebel commanders in Syria say the international diplomatic initiative to end to end the country's civil war will fail until it clearly establishes that not only President Bashar al-Assad must go but also his inner circle and most of the country’s feared intelligence services must leave office.
For four years, the opposition and rebels have been trying to oust Assad and they are in no mood to compromise.
They are suspicious of the international initiative to find a political solution to the war that has left 250,000 dead. They fear that Assad backers Russia and Iran will wear down the Western countries.
And they say talks that started last week in Vienna shouldn't extend indefinitely.
The talks involved 17 nations, including the U.S., Russia and Iran.
Opposition leaders say Tehran should only be allowed to continue to participate if it accepts the U.N.-sponsored 2014 Geneva Communique, which states Assad should relinquish power.
“We don’t ask that Iran won’t attend but we ask for example that Iran should admit (accept the) Geneva Communique, that there will be no future for al-Assad," said Nagham al-Ghadri, vice-president of the main Western-backed Syrian political opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition.
Al-Ghadri said there’s increasing distrust between the SNC and the Western powers.
SNC politicians view the talks as maneuvering by the international players, and say that without participation by either the SNC or the Assad government the negotiations are futile.
Al-Ghadri said the SNC's main goal remains: “From day one of the TGB, the transitional government body, no Bashar al-Assad. If there is a period between signing the agreement and day one of the TGB, Bashar may be in that period, we don’t mind.”
Some of the countries involved in the Vienna talks envisage several months of a preparatory period between a peace deal and a new transitional government.
Assad must go
Zakaria Malahefji, spokesman for the rebel alliance Army of Holy Warriors, said the fighters inside Syria will never accept Assad remaining during a transition. Nor will they accept any member of the Assad regime’s inner circle remaining or the intelligence services because they have blood on their hands, he added.
Few Syrians, politicians, activists or fighters believe a peace deal is possible at this stage.
They note the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran -- Tehran has threatened to withdraw from a planned next round of talks -- and argue the circumstances are against a political solution, especially now Russia has entered the fight to buttress Assad’s government.
Bassam al-Kuwaiti, a political activist who knows the thinking of opposition politicians and top rebel commanders, said, "We have seen it throughout history, (a) political solution doesn’t come without credible threat of using force -- except if we are talking about surrender to the regime or dividing the country, and both are unacceptable. So basically nobody believes in a real political solution in the current circumstances.”
With the deal toll rising the prospects look grim for a deal.