a political process leading to credible, inclusive, nonsectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and elections. These elections must be administered under U.N. supervision to the satisfaction of the governance [sic] and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, free and fair, with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.Daniel Serwer makes a key point:
The Iranians have not signed on to delegation of his authority to a transitional governing body, but only to his fate being decided in UN-supervised elections. And implicitly the Americans and their partners have backed off the demand that he give up power at the start of the transition process, settling instead for his removal at the end, if the voters so decide (or perhaps earlier if the Russians are prepared to prevent him from standing at the elections)The memorandum also provides for a renewed effort to stop the killing:
The participants together with the United Nations will explore modalities for, and implementation of, a nationwide cease-fire to be initiated on a date certain and in parallel with this renewed political process.We may be seeing the first steps towards achieving a frozen conflict. No external stakeholder is prepared to give up on its ultimate objectives but the continuing civil war may be reaching a hurting stalemate.
The Russian intervention has stabilized the regime. The Russians are probably not so much concerned about a naval base or having a foothold in the middle east as they are concerned with pushing back against what they see as American efforts to act as a revisionist power. Iran has taken on the greatest direct costs to support Assad & Co. because the loss of Syria as an ally would be a major strategic set back. They too are attempting to look constructive now that the process is going to prejudge the outcome.
The U.S. appears to be moving along with its allies to support a process that while raising the prospect of a Syrian government without Assad et al, also agrees to formally extend the regime's life span. In the meantime a renewed effort will be made to achieve a ceasefire while continuing the war against ISIS.