Syria: Tea and sympathy in London while bombs fall on Aleppo

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London (CNN)As scores of people struggle for breath in Aleppo after a deadly poison gas attack, 2,000 miles away in London, diplomats, politicians and soldiers sit comfortably around a boardroom table to discuss the bitterly divided country's future.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is hosting talks between key players in the Syrian civil war, which has been raging for five years, leaving more than 250,000 people dead, 6.6 million more internally displaced, and forcing almost 5 million to flee the country.

Who is there? And who isn't?

    The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), an internationally-backed umbrella group which represents Syria's wide-ranging opposition, from politicians -- including former prime minister Dr. Riyad Hijab -- to many of the more moderate rebel groups on the ground in Syria, including the Free Syrian Army.
    They will be joined by Foreign Ministers and representatives from France, Italy, the US, Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. US Secretary of State John Kerry will join the talks via videolink from Asia.
    But -- and it's a big but -- nobody from the Assad regime, Russia, or its other allies is present at the talks.
    ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Hezbollah and some of the other Islamic militant groups fighting in Syria are not represented either.

    So what's the point?

    These are not intended as peace talks, per se -- the HNC is laying out a 25-page plan that explains its vision of the way forward for Syria:
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    "For emancipation from dictatorship, the establishment of a new social contract ... building a political system that protects freedoms, safeguards individual rights, and that is founded upon the principles of liberty, equality, citizenship, and justice."
    It's a three phase plan: first, negotiations that should take six months, then a transition period and then an implementation period. If this all sounds familiar that's because it's exactly what the UN Security Council laid out in December last year, and which has since stalled.
    Right at the top of the list is the very, very clear condition that -- and these are the HNC's words -- "Bashar al-Assad and his clique, who committed heinous crimes against the Syrian people," must leave power.

    Will it make any difference?

    The idea is that this is not a final blueprint for peace, but a starting point for negotiations, when the day comes and everyone gets around the table. But that day is a long way off at this point.
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    The fly in the ointment is that Russia shows no intention of telling al- Assad to go.
    The Foreign Ministers are not endorsing the HNC vision -- they are encouraging it. Essentially what they're doing is giving it a platform for the world to hear, but that doesn't translate to putting pressure on Russia.
    The HNC says this is not enough, and that the US, the UK and others need to do more to get Russia to comply with the UN agreement (UNSC Res 2254) on Syria.
    Are these talks going to inch this situation forward, to stop more attacks like the ones we've seen in recent days? That really is very, very unlikely.

    Will Russia back peace talks?

    At this point, we simply don't know.
    In the international community, there is a huge amount of frustration that the killing is still going on in Syria. The general agreement is that, ultimately, there is no military solution, and that Russia cannot prosper from a never-ending conflict in Syria.
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    The Assad regime does not have enough troops to impose his will across the whole country, and the longer Russian troops are embroiled in the fighting, the higher the number of casualties they suffer and the more unpopular the conflict becomes at home.
    The Western assessment is that ultimately, Russia will find terms that are favorable for the people it supports in Syria -- al-Assad and his government -- to come to some sort of a peace deal.

    So will the killing stop soon?

    The evidence on the ground right now is that Assad, Russia and Iran want to continue to push their military advantage: they've had the momentum and they're trying again to squeeze the rebels out of Aleppo.
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    It is thought that -- recognizing Assad cannot reunite a deeply fractured Syria -- they want to take control of the city to give Assad a "rump state" which he could continue to control.
    While that battle -- fought with airstrikes, barrel bombs and chemical weapons -- continues, so will the deaths. And while Assad and his Russian allies continue to focus on Aleppo, they are taking their eye off the ball when it comes to fighting ISIS and other Islamist militant groups.
    It's unclear what their next tactical move would be, but for the international community the assessment has to be that, eventually, Russia will want to call for peace.