BEIRUT -- A proposed round of Syrian peace talks slated for later this month appears to be on the verge of collapse after both major parties have said they will not participate without major concessions from the other side.
The U.S.-backed talks, which were tentatively scheduled for late November in Geneva, once seemed all but certain. But in recent weeks, they've faltered under the demands of the participants.
On Sunday, Ahmad al-Jarba, the head of the U.S.-backed opposition Syrian National Committee, announced in Cairo that his powerful organization would not attend any talks unless there was an agreement beforehand for the eventual removal of president Bashar Assad from office.
“We have decided not to enter Geneva talks unless it is with dignity, and unless there is a successful transfer of power with a specific timeframe, and without the occupier Iran at the negotiating table,” Jarba said during a session in Cairo, according to the Lebanon Daily Star.
The Syrian government has also indicated that it will not deal with anyone from the SNC, saying that the group has "no representation within Syria," according to Al-Monitor. Officials were particularly outraged after the SNC supported an aborted American plan to launch cruise missiles into Syrian military targets.
International mediators, led by the international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, have urged that the talks take place without any preconditions, despite earlier agreements among the parties at a first set of Geneva talks that Assad's exit from power must be part of a final settlement.
But they've seen hopes of a settlement fade in recent weeks, as the opposition has found itself significantly weakened on the ground amid Syrian Army attacks and a paucity of international financial and military support.
State Department officials have said repeatedly that they agree that the Geneva talks should be held without preconditions, although they have also repeatedly signaled that Assad must leave.
During a Sunday public appearance with the Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Assad cannot be part of any resolution to the conflict in Syria, but did not specify how such a result would come about.
"We also believe that Assad, by virtue of his loss of moral authority, cannot be part of that because of the difficulties of his ever representing all of the people of Syria," Kerry said during the appearance in Cairo, according to a transcript. "Nobody can answer how you could actually end the war as long as Assad is there."
The Syrian opposition would enter talks with a relatively weak hand. The parties that make up the group remain deeply fragmented, with the political organs in Turkey and Egypt having only limited contact and accord with the hundreds of smaller fighting factions inside Syria. Agreeing on political tactics has posed a nearly insurmountable obstacle.
In a further blow, a top rebel military officer resigned his post on Sunday, blasting the various mainstream opposition groups, like the SNC and the Free Syrian Army, for failing to bring their interests into line with those of the various groups on the ground.
The officer, Col. Abdel-Jabbar Ukaidi, ran the Revolutionary Military Council in the embattled city of Aleppo, and was part of the chain of command for the Free Syrian Army. In giving up his post, he condemned the exile groups for their embrace of “your hotels and your political posts," and accused the international community of "conspiring against the people and the uprising," according to the Daily Star.
“You hardly represent yourselves,” Ukaidi said of the external opposition factions, the Daily Star reported.