UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi meets Syria's warring sides behind closed doors yesterday to gauge if they are willing to negotiate face to face after the first day of a peace conference ended in bitter exchanges.
Brahimi was set to meet separately with delegations from President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition in Geneva before full talks resume on Friday.
The UN-sponsored conference -- the biggest diplomatic effort yet to resolve Syria's devastating civil war -- opened in the Swiss town of Montreux on Wednesday with heated disagreements among the two sides and world powers.
Meanwhile, the United States on Wednesday said that Iran's absence from Syria peace talks would have no impact on the nuclear deal being brokered between Tehran and world powers.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday invited Iran to the talks but withdrew his invitation less than 24 hours later amid reservations from the United States and Syrian opposition groups.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf described the diplomatic crisis triggered by the invitation as a "fiasco."
"We have been very clear and the Iranians, I think, have been clear, certainly in our discussions, that these are separate issues," she told reporters.
Brahimi was set to first meet with opposition chief Ahmad Jarba yesterday afternoon and subsequently with the head of the Syrian regime's delegation, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, the UN said.
It remained unclear if he would be able to coax them to sit down at the same table for direct talks, or if their respective international backers, the United States and Russia, would need to shuttle between them.
Expectations are very low for a breakthrough at the conference, which officials have said could last up to 10 days, but diplomats believe that simply bringing the two sides together for the first time is a mark of some progress and could be an important first step.
With no one appearing ready for serious concessions, mediators will be looking for short-term deals to keep the process moving forward, including on localised ceasefires, freer humanitarian access and prisoner exchanges.
In the Swiss ski resort of Davos yesterday, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said elections would be the best way to end Syria's civil war.
"No outside party or power should decide for the Syrian people and Syria as a country,"Rouhani told the World Economic Forum.
so far, Syria's civil war has claimed more than 130,000 lives and forced millions from the homes.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri late Wednesday called for a halt to the clashes, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have killed nearly 1,400 people since January 3.