As a fresh round of Syria peace talks kicks off in Geneva, the Assad regime continues to resist the notion of political transition, despite the adoption last December of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254.
Earlier U.N.-backed talks that began March 14 between the Syrian regime and the High Negotiation Committee (HNC), which represents Syria's moderate opposition, ground to a halt due to the former's unwillingness to countenance the notion of political transition.
In a Feb. 20 interview with Spanish daily El Pais, Assad said he would fight the opposition to the end, stressing that he had no intention of adhering to a cessation-of-hostilities agreement proposed by Washington and Moscow.
Shortly afterward, Assad was warned by Vitaly Churkin, Russia's permanent U.N. representative, that such obstinacy was out of line with Moscow's political efforts and the ceasefire went into effect on Feb. 29.
On Wednesday, the Assad regime held general elections in regime-held parts of Syria, even though UNSC Resolution 2254 stipulates that polls -- backed by the U.N. -- be held in mid-2017 with a view to ushering in a period of "Syrian-led" political transition.
Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has described Assad's removal from power -- a longstanding opposition demand -- as a "red line", revealing the regime's unwillingness to adhere to a U.S.- and Russia-backed transitional roadmap.
Following negotiations over the roadmap's details, Russia on March 13 announced the partial withdrawal of its military forces deployed in Syria.
In the wake of the partial redeployment, U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that ongoing attacks on opposition-held areas by the Syrian regime represented violations of the ceasefire and the U.N.-led peace process.
According to diplomatic sources close to the Geneva talks, the U.S. and Turkey have both agreed on the main points to be discussed. Russia, too, has reportedly agreed to the agenda.
Meanwhile, Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.'s special envoy to Syria, has presented a 12-point document -- based on Turkey's recommendations -- regarding the reconciliation process, to which he has voiced hope that all sides will agree.
The desired political transition process is enshrined in the sixth point of the document, entitled "Essential Principles of a Political Solution in Syria".
It reads: "As per Security Council resolution 2254, the political transition in Syria shall include mechanisms for credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution and free and fair elections pursuant to the new constitution."
All of this, it adds, is to be "administered under supervision by the UN, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate".
Assad, for his part, says he must be part of any future transitional government, describing the opposition's insistence on his departure as "illogical and unconstitutional".
Assad also maintains that the transitional government should adhere to Syria's current constitution and that any new national charter must be made by a government of "national unity".
Ankara and Washington, meanwhile, say the transitional process will fail if Assad insists on remaining in power.
However, observers point out that while the U.S. says it wants to see a "Syria without Assad", Resolution 2254 effectively secured Assad's position for another two years.
Notably, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week said Assad might take part in the transitional process.