Syria's government has agreed "in principle" to take part in a peace conference - proposed by Russia and the United States-dedicated to establish peace in the war-town country. This marks the first confirmation that President Bashar Assad's regime would be willing to take part in the talks with the opposition. According to Russia's foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich:
"We note with satisfaction that we have received an agreement in principle from Damascus to attend the international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to resolve the conflict."
Although the U.S. and Russia - Assad's staunchest political ally - stand at opposite ends of the Syrian conflict, the two country's joined efforts earlier this month to convene an international conference to bring representatives of Assad's regime and the opposition to the negotiating table. The brutal Syrian civil war - which has already taken the lives of at leat 70,000 Syrians - began when uprisings against Assad erupted in March 2011.
Can Assad's regime, rebel factions and the international community find a political solution to Syria's devastating war?
Here are the facts you need to know about this international peace conference and Assad's role in a possible transitional government:
1. The Conference Will Convene Assad's Government and Rebel Forces
The conference aims to find a political solution to the violence in Syria. This would mark the first time Assad's regime would converse with members of the Syrian opposition. Assad's participation had been expected since Russia, a key organizer of the peace initiative, is an important ally of Assad’s government. Still, many obstacles remain before the conference comes together. Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition has generally expressed wariness about the international initiative.
2. Talks Would Establish the Outlines for a Transitional Government
The conference's main goal is the creation of a transitional government. The main issue that is likely to come up during these discussions is President al-Assad's fate.
3. Syrian Opposition is Electing a Leader to Formulate Their Position
It is no secret that Syria's opposition is fractious. However, the main Syrian opposition group "National Coalition" - which is supported by the West - met in Istanbul to elect new leaders and find an approach to the conference. The Head of Syria at the U.K foreign office has tweeted about the meetings:
— Reza Afshar (@RezaMac) May 23, 2013
4. It Is Not Known if Assad Will Step Down
Among world powers, Russia supports Assad’s continued leadership, saying his presence would stabilize any transition. A possible solution that is being studied is detailed in a communique of a UN-backed Action Group for Syria called for an immediate end to violence through establishing "a transitional government that could include officials serving under President Bashar al-Assad and members of the opposition."
However, the outgoing leader of Syria's main opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib put forward a detailed plan for the transition of power in Syria which contrasts the solution put forth by the Action Group.
5. Members of the Opposition Want a Guarantee that Assad Will Step Down
And here we have the main conflict of interest. Members of the Syrian National Coalition - Syria's main opposition group - have said they want guarantees that Assad's departure is foremost on the agenda. The detailed plan which was put together by Syria's main opposition It also calls for Assad and his family to be given a safe exit if he stands down.