Delegates assembled on the eve of the Geneva II conference under a heavy political cloud.
EU Foreign Minister Baroness Ashton, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi all smiled for the cameras.
But there are deep divisions over Syria. The US criticises Russia for supplying President Bashar al Assad’s regime with weapons.
But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insists none of them are banned under international agreements. And he in turn has already criticised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for withdrawing Iran’s invitation at the last minute.
At a press conference he said of the decision: “This is of course a mistake. I’ve already said it before. But there has been no catastrophe.”
The crisis over Syria is set to deepen after recent claims of photographic evidence of torture under Assad’s regime. The photos have been reviewed by a team of international prosecutors who said there was evidence of systematic abuse and murder involving 11,000 detainees.
It is likely to increase demands for Assad to step down and face an international war crimes trial.
And the Syrian delegation’s plane was held up when a Greek firm in Athens refused to refuel it, citing an EU trade embargo.
Euronews correspondent Stamatis Giannisis reported from Athens:
“Although the temporary grounding of the aircraft of the Syrian delegation at Athens Airport was treated as a minor diplomatic incident, it does carry the symbolism over the sorts of possible mishaps that may occur during the arduous Geneva peace talks.”