Diplomats From 17 Countries, Including Iran, Discuss Syria Crisis In Vienna
October 30, 2015
Diplomats from 17 countries, plus the UN and the European Union, are meeting in Vienna to seek ways to end the 4 1/2-year war in Syria.
Not represented at the October 30 meeting are the Syrian government or any Syrian rebel groups.
The meeting expands talks that began in the Austrian capital on October 29 and included Iran for the first time in efforts by world and regional powers to agree on how to end the Syrian crisis.
Taking part on October 30 are senior envoys from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Germany, and Italy.
Arriving at the venue for the talks on October 30, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he hoped progress could be made, but that it would be difficult.
'I am hopeful. I don't call it optimism,' Kerry told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the talks were at an 'exploratory' stage.
He called the meeting an effort 'to see if there is any scope for bridging the gap that exists between the Russian-Iranian position on the one hand and most of the rest of the countries represented on the other.'
The United States and its Western and Persian Gulf allies say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no place in the country's future and want him to step aside, while both Moscow and Tehran insist that his exit cannot be a precondition for a political solution.
At the Vienna talks, Iran reiterated that it did not believe Assad must stay in power indefinitely.
'Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever,' Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian, a member of Tehran's delegation, was quoted by Iranian media as saying.
Reuters quoted sources close to the talks as saying that Iran favored a six-month 'transition' period in Syria followed by elections to decide the fate of Assad.
Russia on October 30 pushed for talks between rebel groups and the Syrian government.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Moscow wanted the Syrian opposition to agree upon a common approach and the makeup of a delegation for talks with Damascus.
He said that Russia and Saudi Arabia had exchanged lists in Vienna of Syrian opposition figures to be potentially included in such talks and that Russia wanted the Syrian Free Army and the Kurds to take part.
Russia, which has waged a month of intense air strikes against Assad's armed opponents, has also urged preparations for parliamentary and presidential elections in Syria.
But the idea has been rejected by rebels who say a vote would be impossible in the current circumstances, with millions of Syrians displaced, cities standing in ruins, and two-thirds of the country in the hands of jihadists and other armed groups.
Just ahead of the talks, 40 people were killed on October 30 when rockets fired by Syrian government forces hit a market in a rebel-held area outside Damascus, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Despite the wide differences in positions at the Vienna talks, some officials say the fact that the meeting is taking place with so many countries is a sign that progress is possible.
'I think we have reached the point where there is a feeling that military formulas are leading nowhere,' the UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told Al-Jazeera on October 29.
He added that there 'is a realization that without a parallel political, creative, concrete, substantive, transformative type of governance in Syria, we will not be able to end this conflict and, certainly, not be able to fight and win against' the Islamic State militants.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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