Given the failure of previous efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Syria's civil war, it might seem the height of naivete for the United States to join Russia — the protector and arms supplier of President Bashar Assad — in trying to arrange an international peace conference. But, given the alternatives, the Obama administration is right to pursue that possibility and to press Syrian opposition groups to participate, even without a guarantee that Assad would step aside.
Prospects for the proposed conference in Geneva, already uncertain, worsened Thursday when opposition leaders said they wouldn't send representatives until Iranian and Hezbollah fighters left the country and "massacres" stopped. Earlier, the opposition had reiterated that Assad must step down. Meanwhile, the Syrian president said that Russia was honoring its promise to supply his country with weapons (though U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials are skeptical that sophisticated antiaircraft missiles actually have been delivered). The conference, which was to have been held in June, is now expected to take place in July — if it occurs at all.
Yet despite these obstacles, a conference might prove useful. Increasingly the Syrian conflict is involving other actors in the region — not just Hezbollah, the Islamist militia that wields political power in Lebanon, but also Iran and Israel. Early this month Israel dropped bombs in Syria on what it said were weapons shipments headed for Hezbollah, and on Thursday Assad warned that he would respond to any future attacks. Meanwhile, refugees fleeing the fighting are straining the hospitality of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.