As the U.S. and Russia continue to disagree on how best to return stability to Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet in Vienna Friday to discuss the deteriorating situation.
It remains unclear whether they will be able to resolve their competing interests and goals in the country's civil war. At this point, the U.S. insists Syrian President Bashar Assad must go, while Russia is backing him. They believe he is the only person powerful enough to fight the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS),.
"The administration's a little bit in wait-and-see mode," said CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate. They're watching what the Russians and the Iranians are doing on the ground in Syria. "I don't think there are any hopes that there's going to be a grand breakthrough in that meeting, but certainly the U.S. is hoping that there's going to be some diplomatic pathway to define what a political solution looks like."
At first, the week seemed like it might yield some positive developments. The U.S. and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding on safe practices for flying aircraft in Syria. That was particularly important because both countries are carrying out airstrikes in Syria.
Ostensibly, both countries are targeting ISIS, but many of Russia's airstrikes appear aimed at U.S.-backed moderate rebels challenging the Assad regime.
As the agreement reached its final stages of negotiation, a Russian fighter jet came within 1,500 feet of two American aircraft, the closest approach yet.
On Tuesday, however, Syrian President Bashar Assad traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since the country's civil war began in 2011. According to remarks released by the Kremlin, Putin said Russia's military operations would form the basis for a long-term settlement with Syria.
Assad praised Putin, saying, "If it were not for your actions and decisions, the terrorism that is spreading through the region now would have made even greater gains and spread to even wider territories."
Zarate said the meeting contained multiple messages for the wider world.
"For Russia it's a reiteration of the fact that all roads seem to lead to Moscow," he said. "With Putin saying, 'I've called Assad here,' he's demonstrating that he's really in control. Secondly it demonstrates that Assad is more secure. He's left Syria for the first time since 2011, so he feels secure enough amid this civil war, amid potentially internal dissension, to leave his country."
Finally, Zarate said, it showed that Russia is working to secure Assad's future in Syria, or at least change the landscape there.
Kerry and Lavrov were joined in Vienna by their counterparts from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Discussing the meeting while traveling in Germany Thursday, Kerry said his "hope is that realities will mandate responsible choices."
"There is only one thing -- happens to be a person -- that stands in the way of unified principles on which we agree. We agree that Syria should be united. It should be secular. We agree that it should be pluralistic. We agree that the people of Syria should be able to choose their future leadership. We believe that it is essential for all countries to focus efforts against [ISIS], and any extremist element that is unwilling to be part of a peaceful democratic solution," Kerry said.
"The issue is, can we get to a political process during which time the future devolution and allocation of power in Syria is properly allocated by the people of Syria? And that's what we're working towards. So my hope is that these talks can begin a process that could open up a greater discussion," he added.
Zarate said Russia's airstrikes are making a difference "psychologically" for the Assad regime, but he added that they have certainly not done much to push ISIS back. The group is now making a push toward Aleppo, a strategic city in northern Syria.
"The Russians are playing a hard game here," he said. Assad's Moscow excursion demonstrates that Russia nowhere near backing away from their support to him, and I don't see what the diplomatic off ramp is just yet."