Al Jazeera’s Basma Atassi takes you through the corridors of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, where the rivals in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people are meeting for the first time in two years.
Delegates from the Syrian government and the opposition are supposed to discuss a potential ceasefire in Syria and a political transition ending in elections.
But they refuse to meet face-to-face. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura will be shuttling between halls to relay the differing viewpoints.
The run-up to the talks has been confusing and chaotic. Who should be present and what should be discussed has been wrangled over for weeks.
Is there a real chance for peace?
What are the talks about?
The opposition delegation, formed in Saudi Arabia last month and compromising both political and armed opposition, is headed by Syrian army defector Asaad al-Zoubi and includes Mohammad Alloush, who represents a powerful rebel group known as Jaish al-Islam. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by Assad’s regime and Russia.
The opposition insists that Assad must step down before any political transition. They are also demanding humanitarian access to besieged areas such as Madaya, where people have died from starvation, the release of women and children held by the government and an end to barrel-bomb attacks.
A Russia-backed Syrian opposition, which includes Damascus-based figures such as former deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil, has also been invited to Geneva to the dismay of the Saudi-formed opposition bloc which says the Russian-backed figures do not share the uprising’s goal of ridding the country of Assad.
The largest Kurdish group in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is not invited after pressure from Turkey, whose army is fighting armed Kurds in the country’s south.
Geneva 1, 2…3?
The Geneva talks begin on January 29 and may last for six months.
The talks are part of the Vienna process, launched in October amid a growing sense that international efforts to end the five-year conflict were going nowhere. The sessions in Vienna included - for the first time - both the regional ally of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and its regional foe, Saudi Arabia.
The final communique called for setting up a transitional government body in Syria within six months of the launch of the Geneva talks, holding UN-monitored elections within 18 months and observing a nation-wide ceasefire.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said the initial discussions in Geneva will focus on ceasefire and aid delivery.
The talks come after the Geneva 2 talks in January 2014, which saw the first face-to-face meetings between delegates from the Syrian government and the opposition but yielded no tangible results. The Geneva 1 conference in June 2012 was the gathering of international powers at which they agreed on the need for a "transitional government body with full executive powers”.
De Mistura does not want to call the current talks Geneva III. “This is not Geneva III. This is leading to what we hope will be a Geneva success story if we are able to push it forward.”
The Syrian government team at the talks is being led by Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
The government says it wants to fight “terrorists” - a term it uses to describe most of its political and armed opponents - and is not willing to accept that Assad leave power.