Syrian government and opposition teams begin a fifth round of talks in Geneva on Thursday in an effort to end six years of war.
During the previous round of talks from January 23rd to March 3rd the sides made modest progress and they are expected to build on gains in the coming round.
First, they agreed on an agenda and modus operandi. Four topics – governance, a new constitution, elections and “terrorism” – are to be discussed simultaneously in working groups with the aim of finding common ground before devising an action plan.
Second, the opposition was forged into a single delegation. The Riyadh-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which had been regarded as the main opposition group, was compelled to join with two smaller, moderate groups, the Moscow and Cairo platforms.
The HNC demands the removal of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a stand rejected by the government, while the Cairo and Moscow platforms promote compromise and, in the words of the Cairo group head Jihad Makdissi, “evolution rather than revolution”.