GENEVA — Senior United States, Russian and United Nations officials resumed talks on Monday to try to set the date for a second international conference on Syria to pursue a political solution that would end more than 30 months of conflict.
Meeting for the third time in five months, the officials were expected to opt for holding a conference in January, paving the way for an announcement of the date by the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, in New York later on Monday, diplomats said.
A day after concluding intensive negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, Under Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman went first into bilateral talks with two Russian deputy foreign ministers, Mikhail L. Bogdanov and Gennady M. Gatilov. They were to meet later with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy on Syria, and Jeffrey D. Feltman, the United Nations under secretary general for political affairs.
Monday’s talks provided officials with an opportunity to assess the readiness of Syria’s rebel factions and of the government of President Bashar al-Assad for long-awaited negotiations on ending the fighting and forming a transitional government.
On Sunday, Mr. Brahimi discussed arrangements for the conference with members of the Syrian opposition in exile who were to meet officials from U.N. humanitarian agencies in Geneva on Monday, an aide to the special envoy said.
At a meeting in Istanbul earlier this month, Syria’s fractured opposition coalition agreed to attend a peace conference.. That breakthrough enabled officials to begin the process of setting a date for the conference, but progress from that agreement to peace talks still faces considerable challenges that frustrated efforts to convene peace negotiations known as Geneva II in December, diplomats said.
Opposition members briefed Mr. Brahimi on their efforts to broaden support but diplomats said that the opposition was facing fierce resistance from more militant jihadists inside the country fighting government forces and that the coalition was still struggling to put together a credible negotiating team.
The basis for talks between Syrian rebels and the Assad government also remain unclear. Opposition groups have insisted Mr. Assad must leave office as part of any settlement, but government officials were equally adamant in comments earlier this month that they “are not going to Geneva to hand over power.”
The question of Iran’s participation in Geneva II also remains undecided. Mr. Brahimi, who believes Iran, as a significant regional player, should be there, had talks with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in Geneva for the negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement reached with the United States and other world powers in those negotiations on Sunday will make Western governments more comfortable with Iran’s presence at Syria talks, a senior diplomat in Geneva said, but Washington and Saudi Arabia have so far opposed Iranian involvement.
“Nobody knows what they’re going to do but there’s a lot of activity and that’s better than none,” a senior European official in Geneva said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with diplomatic practice. Mr. Brahimi “has the idea that everybody just needs to start talking and once that happens they will find a way forward,” the official said.