Talks seeking a settlement for the situation in Syria opened once again in the Swiss lakeside town of Lausanne on Saturday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hunting for a new path to peace after failing to secure a ceasefire in direct talks with Russia.
Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – three weeks after the collapse of a conscientiously crafted U.S.-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.
Lavrov has said he has “no special expectations” for Saturday’s meeting. A senior U.S. State Department official said he foresaw no major announcement at the end of the day.
“This is going to be, as it has been now for several years, a very difficult process,” the U.S. official said.
Europe is not represented at the meeting being held in a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva. But France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that foreign ministers of like-minded nations plan to meet to discuss Syria in London on Sunday.
Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked on a number of ideas, and although no breakthrough is expected, the regional format could be the basis of a new process, the U.S. official said.
A Western diplomat in Lausanne said the meeting appeared ill-prepared and vague in its goals, and the list of invitees clarified only at the last moment.
“If it is to reach an agreement on Aleppo, countries have to make commitments: Russia to stop bombing, Iran to withdraw its militia on the ground supporting Damascus” the diplomat told Reuters.
“That is a lot to obtain in half a day. Especially when people who are arriving are not happy with the format of the talks,” he said. “If this format is to be credible, Kerry has to come out of the talks tonight saying we got something for Aleppo. A ceasefire would be credible.”
It was the first meeting between Kerry and Lavrov since the collapse of a second attempted ceasefire in September.
The U.S. is expected to once again push Russia to agree to a ceasefire in Aleppo, and Russia is seen as insisting on separating moderate opposition groups from those it considers terrorists.