Momentum in Vienna talks on Syria after Paris massacre

World powers hope to negotiate a ceasefire between Assad and Western-backed rebel groups.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Diplomats from world powers arrived in Vienna on Saturday reinvigorated in their mission to hasten an end to the Syrian war after Islamic State terrorists rampaged through Paris on Friday night.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, sitting alongside his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said their goal is to bring the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the opposition fighting for its ouster to the same negotiating table by January. All parties have agreed to work toward a cease-fire between those parties, a political transition toward “inclusive and nonsectarian governance” within six months and then, ultimately, nationwide elections within 18 months.
The transition period would require a negotiation over eligibility in the voting process, Kerry told members of the press in Vienna, given that half of Syria’s population is either internally displaced or seeking refuge outside the country.
But Kerry said that Assad is prepared – according to his Russian and Iranian backers – to engage in “real negotiation.”
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Both Moscow and Tehran consider Assad the legitimate ruler of Syria, whereas Washington and its Western and Sunni allies consider him the primary agitator in the conflict.
The Obama administration hopes to reach a cease-fire that turns the focus of international powers on Islamic State. The well-financed Sunni terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris on Friday, which killed at least 127 people; in Baghdad hours earlier, killing 18; in Beirut the night before, killing 41; on a plane from Sinai to Russia last month, killing 224; and in Ankara, days before that, killing 128.
Any cease-fire agreed upon in Vienna would not cover Islamic State, or “Daesh,” Kerry said, as well as the Nusra Front – a proxy organization of al-Qaida – or any other group classified as a terrorist organization. Therein may lie the problem in the plan: Moscow considers all groups battling Assad to be terrorist.
Alongside Russia and the US, represented in Vienna are the governments of China, Egypt, France, Germany, Britain, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and the United Nations.
The parties agreed, according to a statement from the UN, “to support and work to implement a nationwide cease-fire in Syria to come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps toward the transition under UN auspices.”
The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council also committed to “empower a UN-endorsed cease-fire monitoring mission in those parts of the country where monitors would not come under threat of attack from terrorists.”
All “supporters of various belligerents,” the statement continued, would be required to abide by the cease-fire, in reference to the primary supporters of Assad and his opposition: Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States.