EDITOR'S NOTE: Amanpour's full interview with Brahimi can be seen here.
By Mick Krever, CNN
People on both sides of Syria’s civil war now agree that there is no military solution to the conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. special envoy for Syria, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“Some time ago, both sides were absolutely certain that they are winning,” Brahimi said. Now, “individuals on each side tell me that there is no military solution.”
The U.N. announced on Monday that new Syria peace talks would be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in January, but the full list of attendees is still unknown.
One of the more contentious invitees is Iran, which has said that if invited it would “participate without any preconditions.”
Brahimi supports Iran’s attendance, as do the U.N. secretary-general and the secretary-general of the Arab League.
The U.S. has expressed openness to Iran participating, but would like to see Tehran accept the framework of a June 2012 agreement that calls for a transitional government to be formed by mutual consent of all sides.
“In a conference like this, you don't invite only onlookers,” Brahimi said. “You invite people who have influence.”
Many observers say that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have been defeated some time ago were it not for the help he receives from Iran, in the form of military support, Iranian Revolutionary Guard fighters, and militants from Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Amanpour put this claim to Brahimi.
“If half of what you say is true, then Iran must have a hell of a lot of influence,” he said. “And that is why it should be there.”
Brahimi told Amanpour that he had spoken “at length” with the Iranians, and was encouraged by their attitude.
They have told him, he recounted, “‘If you think you can invite us without any conditions, we'll be happy to come and we will be constructive. If you can’t, that's fine. We will be supportive anyway.’”
The starting point of this new round of talks is that June 2012 agreement, known as the Geneva Communique.
That document called for “an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms” as a step towards further talks. Brahimi admitted that “things have changed” since then.
“There will be no cease-fire,” he said. “So we are now calling on the parties who are coming to Geneva to see if they can take any confidence-building measures.”
Among those steps, he said, would be “diminishing” the level of violence, releasing prisoners, and facilitating the arrival of humanitarian aid.
Brahimi said that the Syrian government had made “very promising” pledges about improving the flow of humanitarian aid and said that he was also speaking to the opposition about allowing better access.
The Syrian government has confirmed it will attend. The opposition has also said it will participate, Brahimi said, despite having “questions, fears, and doubts.”
Indeed, just what the “opposition” means is a worthwhile question, as most observers agree that it is incredibly fractured. The moderate opposition military wing supported by the United States, the Free Syrian Army, has said it will not attend, though it is not clear if it was invited in the first place.
“The fracturing of society in Syria is such that you cannot hope to have everybody, every single group and individual represented in the beginning of this process,” Brahimi said. “If we have a group that is reasonably representative of the political opposition to the present regime, I think we can start.”
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal al Mekdad, told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen on Monday that there should be no preconditions to the talks, but insisted that al-Assad would be involved in any transitional government, in effect setting a precondition.
“What has been said is that there will be no preconditions,” Brahimi responded, “but once the conference starts the parties will be free to put on the table issues that they feel strongly about.”
The fact that it has taken so long for this second round of peace talks to get under way is “embarrassing,” Brahimi said – indicative of how complicated and difficult the situation is.
Nonetheless, he was confident that the conference would go on as planned.
“We are going into this with our eyes open,” he said. “We know it's not going to be easy. We know that there are hurdles already now, as we speak. And there will be more hurdles as we come nearly to the conference.”
“We want this to succeed. We want Syria to get out of this black tunnel it has been engulfed in.”