Syrian government negotiators at Geneva peace talks are coming under unaccustomed pressure to discuss something far outside their comfort zone: the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. And they are doing their best to avoid it.
U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura describes Syria's political transition as "the mother of all issues" and, emboldened by the Russian and U.S. muscle that brought the participants to the negotiating table, he refuses to drop the subject.
After a week of talks in Geneva, he praised the opposition for the depth of their ideas, but criticised the veteran diplomats on the government side for getting bogged down.
"The government is currently focussing very much on principles, which are necessary in any type of common ground on the transition," he said. "But I hope next week, and I have been saying so to them, that we will get their opinion, their details on how they see the political transition taking place."