The so-called Action Group on Syria is due to meet today at Montreux (which some of our TV anchors have difficulty pronouncing). After preliminary statements they will repair to Geneva on 24 January, where representatives of the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition are due to meet directly and openly for the first time, under the chairmanship of Lakhdar Brahimi, representing the UN and the Arab League.
The situation is full of anomalies and contradictions. Iran has been disinvited because it doesn't accept the idea of a transition process in Syria. But the Syrian Government doesn't accept the idea of a transition either. It only talks of a conference aimed at stamping out "terrorism" in Syria.
The conference is called Geneva II and is a follow-up to the Geneva I conference. The final communiqué of the Geneva I conference, on 30 June 2012, called for "the establishment of a transitional governing body which can establish a neutral environment in which the transition can take place. The transitional governing body would exercise full executive powers. It could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent."
The communiqué was endorsed by the Secretaries General of the UN and the Arab League, and representatives of China, France, Russia, the UK, the U.S., Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the EU.
So far, Russia has given no indication that it is ready to drop Bashar al-Assad as part of a transition process in Syria. Unless the Russian position changes, the departure of Assad, who is ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent Syrian civilians, does not seem in the cards anytime soon.