Intense diplomatic activities to maintain the fragile Syrian peace imitatively have intensified because of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East.  The tensions were caused by the execution of a Shiite cleric by Saudi Arabia who alleged that the cleric was involved in terrorist activities and which prompted Iranian protesters to plunder and burn the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. This has obviously raised concerns that these bitter regional enemies who are supporting opposing sides in the civil war in Syria and other proxy wars in the region could endanger the UN-sponsored peace talks that are scheduled to restart in Geneva on January 25.

Two rounds of talks in Vienna last year brought the varying factions in the civil war face to face for the first time. This included Iran and Russia who are the main supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Saudi Arabia, the US who are supporting the antiAssad rebel groups. The Saudis only agreed to take part in the talks because of pressure from Saudi Arabia who did not want to sit across the table from the Iranian delegation which emphasized the risk of further divergence. With more than 250,000 people killed in Syria and with more than half of its population displaced or in exile or refugees the stakes for holding these talks is very high.

The UN Security Council resolution passed on December 18, 2015 has decided to have a transitional Syrian government and would like the implementation of a cease fire in 6 months followed by elections within 18 months. Towards this peace plan, the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mustura will visit both Saudi Arabia and Iran for in attempts to ease tensions between both countries. However, these meeting have not discussed the most pertinent reason for the civil war in Syria; that of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad who is the thorniest issue and the major reason for the civil war in Syria.

Opposition groups in Syria are laying preconditions for the continuation of these talks while the ruling regime in Syria has dismissed the opposition’s efforts to form a coalition for negotiations. This coalition was formed during a meeting in Riyadh of anti-Assad factions which did not include the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front. However, the UN Security Council representative said that the government of Saudi Arabia is determined not to let the tensions with Iran have a negative impact on the talks to be held in Geneva.