BERLIN – The Geneva II conference on Syria, set to begin in Montreux, Switzerland, on January 22, is unlikely to achieve its goal of forming a transitional governing authority with full executive powers. But what it can do is launch a much-needed political process and, more important, produce a ceasefire agreement between government and opposition forces. Only when the fighting has stopped can Syria make genuine progress toward a political transition.
Of course, Al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has become a potent force on the ground, and the Nusra Front will not and should not be represented in Montreux – not least because they will not feel bound by any agreement. But this should not serve as an excuse not to pursue a ceasefire. After all, even stopping the fighting between regime forces and some armed groups – that is, those that associate themselves with the Syrian National Coalition, or are at least willing to coordinate with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the partly Saudi-sponsored Islamic Front – would be a major achievement.