The resumption of Geneva peace talks is coinciding with the fifth anniversary of a conflict that began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad before descending into a multi-sided civil war that has drawn in foreign governments and allowed the growth of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, as reported by Reuters.
Fighting in Syria has slowed considerably since a fragile "cessation of hostilities agreement" brokered by the United States and Russia came into force almost two weeks ago. But an actual peace deal and proper ceasefire remain elusive.
As the United Nations' peace mediator Staffan de Mistura prepares to meet with delegations from the Syrian government and opposition, one of the ideas receiving serious attention at the moment is a possible federal division of Syria.
Neither the opposition nor government has confirmed its participation in the latest round of peace talks in Switzerland.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.N. Security Council diplomat said some major Western powers, not only Russia, have also been considering the possibility of a federal structure for Syria and have passed on ideas to de Mistura.
"While insisting on retaining the territorial integrity of Syria, so continuing to keep it as a single country, of course there are all sorts of different models of a federal structure that would, in some models, have a very, very loose center and a lot of autonomy for different regions," the diplomat said.
He offered no details about the models of a federal division of authority that could be applied to Syria. Another council diplomat confirmed the remarks.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on Thursday, de Mistura said "all Syrians have rejected division (of Syria) and federalism can be discussed at the negotiations."
In a September interview Assad did not rule out the idea of federalism when asked about it, but said any change must be a result of dialogue among Syrians and a referendum to introduce the necessary changes to the constitution.
The next round of Syria peace talks is not expected to run beyond March 24. After that round ends, there is expected to be a break of a week or 10 days before they resume.