We have talks about talks on Syria but no answer to the main question: Will the United States launch a military attack?
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart announced Friday that while negotiating a solution to the crisis over Syria's chemical weapons, they also would try to restart parallel talks on the broader issue of ending the Syrian civil war.
The mind-numbing prospect of yet another round of negotiations signaled a potentially bigger endgame for the United States and Russia in the hastily arranged meeting they began on Thursday in Geneva and continued Friday.
Now, the stakes have gotten higher. At first, it was about Russia's sudden proposal this week for Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons, which the United States demanded in order for President Barack Obama to drop plans to launch military strikes.
Friday's announcement that Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would meet again this month in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly linked the chemical weapons issue to the stalled Syrian peace process that began last year.
Progress in the broader peace process will largely depend on whether the current negotiations in Geneva on Syria's chemical weapons succeed, Kerry added.
Specifically, a communique from last year's Syrian peace talks attended by all parties called for a ceasefire and establishing a fully inclusive transitional government to write a new constitution.
Weapons experts say that the immediate goal of having the international community take control of Syria's chemical arsenal would be extremely difficult -- which translates to virtually impossible -- amid a civil war.
They cite the logistics of securing such dangerous chemical agents to ensure they eventually get destroyed instead of ending up in undesirable hands.
An August 21 gas attack on suburban Damascus that the United States blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime caused Obama to threaten a military strike intended to prevent further use of banned chemical weapons.
After months of blocking U.N. action against Syria sought by the United States and European allies, Russia reversed itself by proposing Monday that Syria's stockpiles be put under international control.
Al-Assad quickly agreed, leading to the talks between Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva that began Thursday. Syria also told the United Nations on Thursday that it has sent the paperwork for joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such armaments.
However, al-Assad also insisted Thursday that Obama must drop his threat of military action, a demand echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking to reporters Friday after he and Lavrov met with Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria, Kerry said conversations about Syria's chemical weapons had been "constructive."
Kerry and Lavrov also said they would meet at some point amid the U.N. General Assembly, which begins September 24, to try to set up a second round of Syrian peace talks.
Obama is "deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria, and we know Russia is likewise," Kerry said. "We are working hard to find common ground to be able to make that happen. And we discussed some of the homework that we both need to do."
Lavrov said Russia had promoted a peaceful solution to Syria's civil war from when it started in 2011, adding that the communique agreed to in last year's first round of peace talks involving all the parties had been "basically abandoned."
On chemical weapons, Lavrov said international officials had to work together "to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as practical."
AL-ASSAD: STOP THE THREATS
The challenge facing the chemical weapons negotiations was made clear by the conflicting positions of the United States and Syria on Obama's threat of a military strike.
Al-Assad told Russian TV on Thursday that the United States must call off any potential attack on Syrian government forces before he gives up his large chemical weapons arsenal.
"This bilateral process is based, first of all, on the United States stopping its policy of threatening Syria," he said.
But Kerry made clear Thursday that the threat of a U.S. military strike remains on the table.
"This is not a game," he said, adding that Syria and its ally Russia must show that they are serious about the Syrian government having its chemical weapons destroyed.
Any agreement reached must be "comprehensive," "verifiable," "credible" and "able to be implemented in a timely fashion," Kerry said, adding that "there ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place."
While the Obama administration and its allies accuse the Syrian regime of carrying out the August 21 attack that killed hundreds, the Syrian government blames opposition forces.
In response, U.S. officials point out that the rockets that carried the poison gas came from territory controlled by the regime and landed in