BEIRUT (AP) — Much has changed since Syria's warring sides met for the last round of U.N.-brokered talks in Geneva last summer.
The Islamic State group has been defeated in all its major strongholds, rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have been significantly weakened and Russia, Iran, Turkey and the U.S. have engaged in high level diplomacy that has largely frozen the lines of conflict.
Most significantly, the U.N. is sidestepping for now the divisive issue of Assad's future in a post-war Syria, a question that has derailed all previous attempts to end the country's devastating war.
In this light, diplomats are hoping that the parties in Syria may be ready to make some forward progress in negotiations. There is little optimism, however, that the current round would achieve any significant breakthroughs.