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Assad’s staying in power will mean the continuation of the bloodshed in Syria,” he said.

Unlike Libya’s National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions fighting Gadhafi’s regime and was quickly recognized by much of the international community, Syria’s opposition has no leadership on the ground.

Regime opponents in Syria are a diverse group, representing the country’s ideological, sectarian and generational divide. They include dissidents who spent years in prison, tech-savvy activists in their 20s, former Marxists, Islamists and Paris-based intellectuals.

Communication between those abroad and those in the country is extremely difficult. Political activists in Syria are routinely rounded up and imprisoned. Many have gone into hiding, communicating only through Skype using fake names, and the country is largely sealed off to exiled dissidents and foreign journalists.

International tensions also heightened last week after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane, leading to Turkey setting up anti-aircraft guns on its border with its neighbor.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague noted that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told diplomats a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria would have to be pulled back if no diplomatic solution is found.

“We haven’t reached agreement in advance with Russia and China — that remains very difficult. I don’t know if it will be possible to do so. In the interest of saving thousands of lives of our international responsibilities, we will try to do so,” Hague told reporters. “It’s been always been our view, of course, that a stable future for Syria, a real political process, means Assad leaving power.”

The head of the struggling U.N. observer mission, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, has described the 300 monitors approved by the U.N. Security Council to enforce a failed April cease-fire as being largely confined to bureaucratic tasks and calling Syrians by phone because of the dangers on the ground. Their mandate expires on July 20.

“Ultimately, we want to stop the bloodshed in Syria. If that comes through political dialogue, we are willing to do that,” said Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups based in Istanbul, Turkey. “We are not willing to negotiate (with) Mr. Assad and those who have murdered Syrians. We are not going to negotiate unless they leave Syria.”

Clinton said Thursday in Riga, Latvia, that all participants in the Geneva meeting, including Russia, were on board with the transition plan. She told reporters that the invitations made clear that representatives “were coming on the basis of (Annan‘s) transition plan.”

The United Nations says violence in the country has worsened since a cease-fire deal in April, and the bloodshed appears to be taking on dangerous sectarian overtones, with growing numbers of Syrians targeted on account of their religion. The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria heading toward civil war.