Even as they trade barbs publicly -- and even as artillery shells and accusations continue to fly in Syria -- the United States and Russia could take solace Friday in at least one respect: They are still talking.
Discussions between the two in Geneva -- centered around Moscow's proposal to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government hand over its chemical weapons stockpile -- were supposed to end Friday. They continued through the night and were extended into Saturday for a reason, U.S. officials said.
"If there was no opening, we wouldn't still be here," a senior State Department official said.
An Obama administration official said separately that "we are coming closer to agreement on the scope of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile."
And even before the Geneva talks' extension was announced, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signaled their intent to meet again: on September 24 in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
The prospect of yet another round of negotiations in the next few weeks pointed to a potentially bigger endgame for the United States and Russia in the hastily arranged meeting they began on Thursday in the Swiss city.
That's not to say all of the many outstanding issues -- on Syria's chemical weapons and much more -- have been resolved.
Senior U.S. administration officials told reporters on condition of not being identified the main sticking point was what consequences al-Assad and his government should face.
These officials have no expectations Russia would agree to any U.N. resolution that included authorization for possible military force against Syria. The United States, therefore, will not insist it be included.
That runs counter to Obama's call for the international community to take action, including a potential military strike, for what the United States and allies call a chemical weapons attack by al-Assad's forces last month outside Syria's capital that they say killed more than 1,400 people.
Obama has threatened to act alone, if necessary, and his administration credits that threat with Russia's surprise proposal last week to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons arsenal to international control.
Outside of the United Nations, however, administration officials insisted they would not take the military threat off the table.
A senior defense official said there has been "no change" in the military's planning or readiness levels and commanders have not been instructed to change their "posture" in any way.
Chemical weapons report expected Monday
The United Nations -- and especially its Security Council, including permanent members the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain -- could play a key role in the international community's response to Syria. And a report by its inspectors looking into an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus could be pivotal in guiding where countries come down on the issue.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-mooon is expected to present the report to the Security Council at 11 a.m. Monday, three diplomatic sources said. Ban said Friday that he believes it "will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used."
The big questions are by whom and, if that's settled, what the world should do about it.
Al-Assad and other Syrian officials have vehemently denied their forces were responsible, despite assertions by Obama and others to the contrary.
Russia has stood by its longtime ally Syria, challenging the validity of the U.S. claims. At the same time, and as the threat of U.S.-led strikes loomed, Moscow raised its proposal on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and working through the U.N. -- this after, time and again, blocking U.N. action involving Syria.
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.
The Syrian submission was being reviewed by U.N. lawyers. If deemed sufficient, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would register it and Syria would officially be a member state in the convention.
U.N. envoy: U.S.-Russia talks 'extremely important'
At first, the Geneva talks were about Russia's proposal Monday for Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons, which the United States had demanded in order for Obama to drop plans to launch military strikes.
Now the stakes have gotten higher, with Kerry telling reporters that progress in the broader peace process will largely depend on whether the current Geneva negotiations on Syria's chemical weapons succeed.
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.