Geneva:Talks to end Syria's civil war kick off in Geneva on Monday, but with the opposing sides unable to agree an agenda there was little confidence they could swiftly turn a temporary truce into a lasting peace deal.
The long-awaited talks, which open on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, mark the latest bid to end the bloodshed that has killed more than 2,70,000 people and displaced millions.
Hours before negotiations were due to start, what would be discussed was still unclear, and Western powers hit out at the regime for saying that removing President Bashar al-Assad would be a "red line". US Secretary of State John Kerry said the remarks from his Syrian counterpart were "clearly trying to disrupt the process... (and) clearly trying to send a message of deterrence to others".
He urged the regime's key ally Russia to bring Damascus into line, saying Assad was trying to "to take off the table something that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Iran had committed to". "This is a moment of truth, a moment where all of us have to be responsible," he said. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault went further, calling Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem's comments a "provocation" and a "bad sign" in the peace efforts for Syria.
"There will be no political process if the opposition is not closely involved and confident," he added, calling on all the players in Syria's war to ensure "the peace process is sincere and real steps are taken".
While analysts say much has changed since the last round of indirect talks collapsed in February, Assad's fate and whether elections will be held within 18 months remain huge obstacles to agreeing a roadmap to peace.
A temporary ceasefire introduced on 27 February has largely held, despite accusations of violations from both sides, offering some reprieve for Syria's war-ravaged people and allowing aid to reach some 150,000 living under siege.
But experts have cast doubt on whether the talks will get off the ground and, if they do, whether any agreement will be able to take hold on the fractured battlefields where multiple groups are competing for dominance