In their article Give Peace Talks a Chance Michael Quinn and Madhav Joshi discuss how peace negotiations in Syria could work. Although they start from a different perspective they come to similar conclusion as I did in previous articles.
They object against the announced global conference: Most peace processes begin with secret or else private pre-negotiations. In private talks, there is no audience, and the cost of joining or leaving is low. The primary function of these discussions is to overcome the psychological barriers to formal negotiations by addressing the warring parties’ major fears about the process. Each side expresses the problems as they see them. These perceptions are repeatedly reframed until a shared understanding of the issues that need to be addressed is developed.
They also warn against big demands and goals at this stage: Talks that bite off too much too early are likely to fail. In Nepal’s first round of formal peace talks in 2001, for example, the Maoists put forward a list of roughly 40 demands, which included dissolving the government and the constitution and holding elections for a constituent assembly. Government mediators balked. The talks failed, and the civil war entered its most violent period. Two years later, in 2003, the Maoists called a cease-fire and the government reciprocated. This time, the initial gambit was only three security-related requests that did not include dissolving the government. The government accepted and formal negotiations began. By 2006, the two sides were signing a comprehensive agreement that ended the war. They even agreed to form a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, which, in turn, abolished the monarchy.
They also argue against having a transitional government now: Transitional power-sharing arrangements are quite common in peace agreements. (Over half of the accords in the Peace Accords Matrix, a database of comprehensive peace agreements hosted by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, establish a transitional power-sharing arrangement). Such provisions, however, typically entered into agreements later in the process, once the parties had decided what they were transitioning to.
They don't consider the fragmented nature of the opposition a major problem: But many successful negotiations do start out as bilateral talks between the government and one or more groups. They tend to expand to include more opposition groups over time because, as talks near their end, no one wants to be left out of the process that will shape new political institutions or even form a new government. If a group does not put down its guns, it runs the risk of being denied recognition as a legal party or, even worse, becoming the target of an increasingly focused military campaign under a unified government. In other words, starting negotiations with one or more groups tend to lead to negotiations with the other groups.