Geneva II Immediately Divided on Future Role of Bashar Assad

The role of the current president in the new Syria causing complications at peace summit.

UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, left, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, right, attend the Geneva II peace talks in Montreux, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.
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The inherent quagmire of the Syrian peace talks that began in Geneva on Wednesday were immediately apparent mere moments into the opening remarks by the delegates there.

World leaders meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, for the Geneva II conference on Syria were immediately divided over what role Syrian President Bashar Assad will play in the future of the country ripped apart by three years of bloody civil war. Delegates from opposition group the Syrian National Coalition maintained their staunch policy that Assad must have absolutely nothing to do with the new Syria.

[READ: 4 Things to Look For in Geneva II Conference on Syria's Future]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry came out of the gate with an immediate demonstration of support for the SNC. He documented the regime's use of starvation and torture, as well as artillery, tanks, chemical weapons, barrel bombs and Scud missiles, resulting in more than 130,000 deaths and millions displaced from their homes.

"Government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government," he said in his opening remarks to the other conference delegates. "There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern."

Kerry pointed to the Geneva communique – the end result of the Geneva I conference in June 2012 – which calls for an end to the violence, and the establishment of a temporary government with full executive power that would pave the way to democracy in Syria.

[WORLD REPORT: 4 Reasons to Be Pessimistic Syria and Geneva II]

"The only thing standing in its way is the stubborn clinging to power of one man, one family," he said.

For Assad and his regime, however, such talks amount to a nonstarter. The Syrian government believes this is an internal issue and that any international negotiations should focus exclusively on quelling what it calls a terrorist uprising at home.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi says foreign delegations don't understand the true nature of the ground war in Syria, calling those delegates who support the opposition "ambassadors of terrorist organizations, not states or governments," according to the Syrian state news service SANA.

"The subject of the president and the regime is a red line for us and the Syrian people and will not be touched," said Walid al Muallem, Syria's foreign minister, according to SANA.

Russia has staunchly supported the Syrian regime, along with Iran, who was uninvited to attend the meetings. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against meddling with the Syrian system of government.

"Attempts to force upon the countries of the Middle East and North Africa the recipes of reforms from outside and to stage social engineering experiments throw back the process of political and economic modernization," he said, according to Russian news service Interfax. "One does not have to go far to see examples."

Initial meetings will take place in Montreux before they move to Geneva, where they will continue for an unspecified amount of time.

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