Negotiators at Syria Peace Talks Can’t Even Agree on Humanitarian Aid

The peace conference in Geneva has failed to deliver humanitarian aid to a starving population. Will opposing sides be able to agree on anything else?

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Wang Siwei / Xinhua Press / Corbis

U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi attends a press conference in Geneva on Jan. 27, 2014.

After three days of talks to find a solution to the Syria conflict the negotiating parties have so far failed to deliver even the most minimal of goals—humanitarian access to the besieged city of Homs. The lack of progress underscores the difficulty of talks between government officials and opposition representatives. Nevertheless the two opposing sides will reconvene today, dragged to the negotiating table by the U.N., Russia and the United States, in an effort to tackle the even more contentious issue of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tenure.

The regime’s refusal to authorize the entry of an international aid convoy into blockaded areas of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, even under the threat of a referral to the U.N. Security Council, suggests the regime is feeling little pressure from the international community. Assad appears to be confident that his key allies, Russia and China, will block any Security Council resolutions, as they have in the past.

But a show of strength at the negotiating table does not necessarily translate to muscle on the ground, where the government has been locked in a months-long military stalemate with the opposition. Despite the deployment of massively destructive barrel bombs and conventional weapons, along with the influx of tens of thousands of Hizballah fighters funded and instructed by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, the government has been unable to substantially move the frontlines.

If nothing is gained at the negotiating table, that stalemate could last years, resulting in a de-facto partition of the country along sectarian lines, the exodus of more refugees and an incoming surge of jihadi volunteers from foreign lands determined to finish the war against Assad. This is what the U.N., the Russians and the Americans are trying to prevent by pushing for the peace conference in Geneva.  But if all the international powers can’t even manage to get a load of emergency supplies to a starving civilian population, it is unlikely that progress will be seen anywhere else.