Major players start talks on Syria future

Published: Friday 30th October 2015 by The News Editor

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The Syrian government’s biggest international backers and opponents have started negotiations over a long-sought compromise to help end a four-year civil war and potentially ease president Bashar Assad out of power.

US secretary of state John Kerry, meeting foreign ministers and senior representatives of 18 other countries in Vienna, said he was hopeful of finding a path forward.

The countries included Iran for the first time, making it the broadest gathering of nations yet to discuss Syria’s future. Another key supporter of Assad, Russia, was present, along with many of the most influential Arab and European allies of the US.

Several participants argued that the talks themselves were a sign of progress, but with no end to the war in sight, there was pressure on all sides to begin chipping away at a “political transition” plan that might convince Assad’s government and armed rebel groups to stop fighting and allow world powers to focus on their shared commitment to defeat Islamic State.

As the talks were happening, Syrian opposition reported that a government missile barrage killed more than 40 in a Damascus suburb. The conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and uprooted more than 11 million since 2001, leading to the growing terrorist threat of IS and sparking a refugee crisis throughout Europe.

“I am hopeful that we can find a way forward,” Mr Kerry told reporters, before adding: “It is very difficult.”

Assad’s fate is at the centre of discussions. The US, Saudi Arabia and others have tempered their earlier calls for his immediate removal and now say he can remain in office for months as part of a transition, if he agrees to resign at the end of the process. Russia and Iran are both providing Assad with military assistance and say Syria’s leadership should not be dictated by outside forces.

Offering some hope, both countries have suggested greater flexibility in recent weeks. Western diplomats have spoken of various conversations with their Russian counterparts indicating that the Kremlin is not “wedded” to Assad maintaining control of the country, and senior Iranian diplomat Hossein Amir Abdollahain said last week: “We are not working for Assad to stay in power forever as president.”

Published: Friday 30th October 2015 by The News Editor

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