Syria road map agreed in wake of Paris attacks
LONDON - Spurred by the Paris terrorist attacks, world powers meeting in Vienna agreed on a political road map and timetable to end the Syrian conflict. The agreement represents a major breakthrough in the lengthy conflict.
The deal imposed a January 1, 2016, deadline to start direct negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition.
Representatives of 17 countries, many of which support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, met for the third time in Vienna to seek a political solution that will see a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian” transitional government within the next six months, followed by the drafting of a new constitution and UN-supervised elections within a further 18 months.
Observers had expected protracted negotiations during the Vienna talks but events were overshadowed by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist attacks on Paris on November 13th, one day before the meetings in Austria.
“The impact of the war bleeds into all of our nations,” US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged. “It is time for the bleeding in Syria to stop.”
“The Paris attacks have shown… that it doesn’t matter if you are for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad or against him, ISIS is your enemy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
The parties agreed “to support and work to implement a nationwide ceasefire in Syria to come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards the transition under UN auspices,” according to a statement from the United Nations.
Washington and Moscow reaffirmed the agreement on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) gathering in Turkey during a brief meeting between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It was unclear when a putative ceasefire would, or could, begin, with questions remaining as to who will represent the Syrian government and opposition at UN-brokered peace talks and who would be eligible to join a future transitional government.
Even reaching an agreement on a list of accepted political organisations and proscribed terrorist groups will be difficult with the Assad regime labelling all opposition groups, from moderate rebels to al- Nusra Front and ISIS, “terrorists”.
The Syrian opposition remains wary of dealing with a regime that has bombed its own people. Some opposition figures cautiously welcomed the deal but others viewed it as a political ploy for Assad to cling to power.
Kerry said opposition attendance at the talks would be contingent on the 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,” he said.
Assad’s fate remains a major stumbling block with Moscow and Tehran showing little inclination to withdraw their support for the Syrian strongman. Lavrov said that the problem, and its solution, is “not about Assad”.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran did not allow a clause on the ouster of President Assad to be included in the final statement of the Vienna talks. We emphasised that only the Syrian people have the right to decide this,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian was quoted as saying by the semi-official FARS news agency.
Riyadh stressed that it will not back down from its staunch position that Assad must go. “We will support the Syrian people. We will support the political process that will result in Assad leaving or we will continue to support the Syrian opposition to remove him by force,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in Turkey.
Washington appeared to be sending mixed messages with observers suggesting that the United States had softened its stance on Assad. “We did not come here to impose our collective will on the Syrian people, exactly the opposite… [They] will be and must be the validators of our efforts,” Kerry said. However, he also acknowledged that the war “can’t end as long as Assad is there”.
British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that opinions over Assad’s future are narrowing. “The gap has been enormous between those of us who believe Assad should go immediately and those who like President Putin who have been supporting and continue to support him,” he said after a meeting with Putin at the G20.
“I think it has been reduced… I hope we can close the gap still further but it will need compromise on both sides,” Cameron added.