Boys play near rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
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GENEVA: Syrian government negotiators at Geneva peace talks are coming under unaccustomed pressure to discuss something far outside their comfort zone: the fate of President Bashar Assad.U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura describes Syria's political transition as "the mother of all issues" and, emboldened by the Russian and U.S. muscle that brought the participants to the negotiating table, he refuses to drop the subject.The Syrian president looked more secure than ever at the start of the latest round of talks, riding high after a Russian-backed military campaign.But Russia's surprise withdrawal of most of its forces during the week signaled that Moscow expected its Syrian allies to take the Geneva talks seriously. Unlike previous rounds, the talks have run for a week without any hint of collapse, forcing the government delegation led by Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari to acknowledge de Mistura's demands.A diplomat involved in the peace process said Assad was not used to having to compromise, and that made Jaafari's negotiating position rigid.
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