STORY: US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday evening (January 21) for peace talks on Syria that few believe can succeed, as a 3-year-old civil war and geopolitical acrimony it brings show no sign of abating.
Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, pressured to attend Wednesday's (January 22) first direct negotiations by their Western backers, cited new, photographic evidence of widespread torture and killing by Syria's government in renewing their demand that Assad must quit and face an international war crimes trial.
War crimes lawyers said a vast, smuggled cache of images from a Syrian military police photographer gave clear evidence of systematic abuse and murder of about 11,000 detainees. One of three former international war crimes prosecutors who signed the report compared the images from Syria with the "industrial-scale killing" of Nazi death camps.
The delegation from Damascus, led by Assad's foreign minister, was briefly held up at Athens due to an argument over whether EU trade sanctions permitted refueling of the plane. Assad has insisted he may be re-elected later this year and says the talks should focus on fighting "terrorism" - his term for his enemies.
The United Nations, along with co-sponsors Russia and the United States, may at least be relieved if and when the two sides sit down at the Montreux Palace hotel on Lake Geneva. A day of diplomatic chaos on Monday (January 20) had threatened to scupper the event, after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a last-minute invitation to Iran, Assad's main foreign supporter.
The invitation was withdrawn after a boycott threat from the opposition, Western pressure and Iran's insistence it had never agreed to the condition Ban set for attendance - that it endorse a previous peace conference, at Geneva in 2012, which called for Assad to make way for a transitional administration.
Narrowing the gap between the warring parties seems a tall order and diplomats at the United Nations stress the meeting at Montreux on Wednesday, to be followed possibly by further talks in Geneva from Friday (January 24), is only a beginning. It could produce some deals to ease civilian suffering and exchange prisoners.