Calendar agreed for Syria polls at Vienna talks, Assad’s fate undecided

Calendar agreed for Syria polls at Vienna talks, Assad’s fate undecided

Calendar agreed for Syria polls at Vienna talks, Assad’s fate undecided

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura address the media in Vienna, Austria, November 14, 2015. REUTERS Photo

World diplomats agreed on Nov. 14 on a path to Syrian elections in 18 months at talks in Vienna driven by a fresh sense of urgency after the Paris attacks that killed at least 129 people, although the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad remained a sticking point.  

The wave of attacks in Paris dominated the second round of talks to end the war in Syria, spurring delegations from 20 countries and organization to find common ground despite deep divisions.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said delegates had agreed a transition government in Syria should be set up in six months and elections held in 18 months.

“No one is lying to themselves about the difficulties we are facing, but the determination to find a solution has progressed in 14 days,” since the first round of talks in Vienna, Agence France Presse reported Steinmeier as saying.

A final statement after the meeting said that the goal was to bring Syrian government and opposition representatives together by January 1.

Within six months, the negotiations between the Syrian sides are to establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian” transitional government that would set a schedule for drafting a new constitution and holding a free and fair U.N.-supervised election within 18 months, according to a joint statement released by the United Nations on behalf of the 19 parties to the talks. The final communique also agreed that the Syrian diaspora should be allowed to vote in the elections, a key sticking point in negotiations.

“This political process has to be accompanied by a ceasefire. That will help to end the bloodshed as quickly as possible and I might add that will help rapidly to define who wants to be considered a terrorist and who is not,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, adding that it would not apply to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

While the diplomats agreed on a U.N.-administered cease fire enforcement mechanism they failed to reach consensus on which groups other than ISIL and al-Qaida affiliates would not be eligible for the truce.

Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu represented Turkey at the table in Vienna, where he went a day before the talks to hold meetings with his counterparts to find a common ground for politically solving the Syrian crisis. 

In almost five years, the war in Syria has left 250,000 dead, sparked a refugee crisis in Europe and birthed ISIL whose actions have hit several nations at the negotiating table in Vienna.

The crux issue of the role of Syrian President Al-Assad remained unsolved. While Western and Arab countries want him out of the way to let a transitional government unite the country behind a reconciliation process and defeat ISIL, Russia, carrying out air strikes against Syrian rebels since late September, is sticking by Assad along with Shiite Iran, which does not want a Sunni-controlled Syria.

While “we still differ on the issue of what happens with Bashar al Assad ... we do agree to this: It is time for the bleeding in Syria to stop, it is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide,” the Associated Press quoted Kerry as saying at the end of the talks, where he sat together with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

At the same time, Kerry said the war “can’t end as long as Bashar Assad is there. That’s the perception of the people waging the war.”

But Lavrov said the conflict - or its solution - is “not about Assad.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are for Assad or against him,” Lavrov said. “ISIL is your enemy.”

“We did not come here to impose our collective will on the Syrian people, exactly the opposite,” Kerry said.

“The Syrian people will be and must be the validators of our efforts.”

As the meeting wrapped up, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged ministers “to move beyond their differences on Syria.” 

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the attacks in Paris made it all the more necessary for the international community to find a common approach in Syria and terrorism, sentiments echoed by the foreign ministers of Germany, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the countries sitting around the table have “almost all experienced the same pain, the same terror,” citing the recent Russian plane disaster in Egypt, which killed all 224 people aboard the plane, and suicide bombings in Beirut’s capital Lebanon that killed 43 people and Turkey’s capital Ankara, which killed 102 people.