No deal on Assad’s fate at Vienna talks

Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna.

Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna.

The US, Russia and more than a dozen other nations directed the UN to start a new diplomatic process between Syria’s government and opposition groups with the goal of reaching a nationwide cease-fire and political transition — but without an explicit demand for President Bashar Assad to quickly leave power.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he had “agreed to disagree” with his Iranian and Russian counterparts on the fate of Assad.

In a joint statement, the participants said “substantial differences remain”, though they agreed it was “imperative to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war”.

There was no agreement at the talks on what should happen with Assad at the end of a political transition process, said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

He said that the talks would resume within two weeks, probably in Vienna, and that participants intended to work on establishing a transitional government, new elections and implementing national or regional cease-fires to halt the bloodshed in Syria.

“Four-and-a-half years of war, we all believe, has been far too long,” Kerry said at a joint news conference with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the UN envoy to Syria.

Kerry said the countries, which included Saudi Arabia and Iran, all pledged to support an independent and secular Syria, to maintain the country’s institutions, to protect the rights of all Syrians, to ensure humanitarian access and to strive to defeat Daesh.

Kerry’s remarks came as the White House said US President Barack Obama has authorized the first sustained deployment of special forces to Syria.

In Vienna, Kerry added that the new UN-led process should lead to a new constitution for Syria and internationally supervised elections.

But no agreement was reached on Assad, whose future lies at the center of the conflict. Kerry and Lavrov both acknowledged as much, repeating their long-standing positions.

“I did not say that Assad has to go or that Assad has to stay,” Lavrov said.


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