Delegates at the “Geneva 2” talks on Syria have been gathering in Switzerland amid low expectations.
Few believe the peace discussions about to start in Montreux will get anywhere near achieving the goal of resolving the conflict.
The chasm between the warring parties seems as wide as ever.
Syria’s National Coalition opposition leaders, meeting under pressure from their Western backers, have cited evidence pointing to widespread torture and killing by the Syrian government in renewing their demand for Bashar al-Assad to quit.
But Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem insisted that the president’s position was non-negotiable.
Most rebel groups have shunned the meeting, and world powers have been engaged in a damage limitation exercise after the row over the UN Secretary General’s last minute invitation to Iran.
It was later withdrawn amid opposition protests, western pressure, and Tehran’s denials that it had agreed to demands for a transitional government in Syria.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the withdrawal of the invitation to its ally was a “mistake” but there was “no catastrophe”.
Diplomats stress the meeting at Montreux is only a beginning, and is due to be followed by more talks in Geneva.
It is hoped it could at least produce deals to ease human suffering and exchange prisoners.