World powers meeting in Vienna to discuss Syria’s political future on Saturday are pressing for a cease-fire in the Middle East conflict by January 1, to be followed by a political transition and subsequent elections.
The Islamic State group’s attacks late Friday in Paris, which left scores of people dead or wounded, added urgency to this latest round of talks.
“Our resolve to eliminate this scourge … only grows stronger in the wake of this brutality,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a joint news conference following the day’s talks.
Kerry said the United States and participants from the European Union, the United Nations and at least 16 countries largely agreed on the need for an inclusive Syrian political process, along with the cease-fire. That process would include representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as well as those from a broad spectrum of opposition groups.
Earlier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the attacks show the necessity of coordinating in the fight against terrorism.
“We have to see what concrete steps we can take to strengthen and coordinate the international action against terrorism,” said Fabius, in Vienna on Saturday.
He said he would return to Paris, on Saturday, and would also replace French President Francois Holland at the upcoming G-20 Leaders Summit in Turkey.
IS has claimed responsibility for the multiple attacks that authorities say killed at least 127 people and wounded roughly 200 more.
The State Department said Americans were among those injured in the attack and that the U.S. embassy in Paris was working assist Americans affected by the attack.
‘Stiffen’ world’s resolve
Kerry said there was agreement that attacks such as those in Paris and Beirut, as well as events in Iraq, were the most “vile, horrendous, outrageous unacceptable acts on the planet.” He said the incidents would “stiffen” the resolve of world powers to fight back.
He commented at a bilateral meeting in Vienna, where Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there should be “no tolerance” for terrorist acts. Other officials in Vienna, including Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, reacted to the attacks.
Representatives from 16 countries plus the U, EU and Arab League have gathered in Vienna for a second round of talks on establishing a framework for a political resolution to Syria’s prolonged and costly civil war.
The State Department said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javid Zarif was expected to join talks on Saturday. Earlier, Iran said a deputy foreign minister would be attending.
World powers try to bridge gaps
The United States and other world powers will seek to bridge gaps with Iran and Russia, supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Vienna talks are expected to focus on identifying Syria’s moderate opposition groups, as well as those that are considered terrorist entities.
“Sergei Lavrov and Foreign Minister Zarif and I and others agreed to disagree,” said Kerry, as the earlier talks wrapped up October 30.
The U.S. says the Syrian leader must step down if there is to be any political resolution aimed at ending the war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the issue Friday, saying the Syrians alone will have to decide on Assad’s future. His comments were reported by Russian and Turkish news agencies.
After Kerry arrived in Vienna late Friday, he held bilateral talks with the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and foreign ministers from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Asked if the world powers could agree on which Syrian opposition groups could join the political transition talks, Saudi Foreign Minister Jubier smiled and said, “We will find out tomorrow.”
Hesitant, and sometimes openly pessimistic, views about the chance of progress in Vienna also were voiced by analysts.
“So this meeting is going to accomplish exactly what?” asked Anthony Cordesman, a defense and security scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Even if world powers can reach an accord, Cordesman added, “What legitimacy would that agreement have in terms of the views of these [opposition] factions within Syria?”
Nevertheless, world powers are motivated to make progress, said Perry Cammack, a Middle East analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The fact that both Washington and Moscow are anxious for an agreement,” he said, “gives us some basis at least for discussions.”
However, Cammack added that he does not expect the negotiators’ hope for agreement to translate into quick political results in Damascus.
Kerry traveled to Vienna from Tunis, his first stop after leaving Washington Thursday. The top U.S. diplomat and his aides took part in a round of strategic dialogue talks with top Tunisian officials.
After Vienna, Kerry is due to travel to Turkey, where he will join President Barack Obama at a summit of the Group of 20 major economies.