BEIRUT — Syria's government has agreed to attend a U.S.-Russian-brokered peace conference, according to Moscow. While this development might seem at first glance to be a step toward ending the civil war, strong skepticism persists on both sides.
Doubting that Damascus is serious and may be stalling while government forces make battlefield gains, the Syrian opposition has demanded guarantees that President Bashar Assad's departure top the agenda; Russia questioned whether the fragmented opposition is capable of negotiating with one voice.
The war has killed more than 70,000 people, and both sides are firmly entrenched in their positions and appear unwilling to compromise to stop the carnage and chaos engulfing the country.
"We are not willing to enter a tunnel with no guarantees of a light at the end of that tunnel," said Muhieddine Lathkani, a London-based Syrian opposition figure. "There's still a lot of fogginess surrounding the talks and we are waiting for some answers," he said in a telephone interview.
Much about the conference remains up in the air, including the date, the agenda, the timetable and the participants. Officials have said it should be held in June.
The U.S. is working to convince Syrian rebels to attend, and the Russians have been pressing Assad's regime to take part as well.
U.S. officials said Secretary of State John Kerry will extend a seven-day trip through the Middle East and Africa by one day to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday to discuss their joint initiative.