Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Diplomats agree on Syria peace plan

COLLECTIVE COMMITMENT:In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, foreign ministers have put aside political differences to make a plan to elevate Syria from militant control

AP, VIENNA

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov on Saturday attend a news conference after an international conference on Syria, in Vienna, Austria.

Photo: EPA

Invoking the need for joint action after the attacks in Paris, foreign ministers of nearly 20 nations agreed on Saturday to an ambitious yet incomplete plan for bringing peace to Syria and ending its role as a breeding ground for the Islamic State and other militant groups.

Countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which support different sides in the conflict, put aside their dispute to condemn the bombings and shootings that left at least 129 people in the French capital dead on Friday. So did Moscow and Washington.

Standing next to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov ahead of Saturday’s full ministerial meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry called the attacks “the most vile, horrendous, outrageous, unacceptable acts on the planet.” He said they “encouraged us today to do even harder work to make progress and to help resolve the crises that we face.”

“The events in Paris underscore the threat that DAESH poses to all of us,” he later said, referring by an alternate name for the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks. Kerry spoke in French for part of his post-meeting remarks, in a bow to the victims of those attacks.

Lavrov said there was “no justification for terrorist acts, and no justification for us not doing much more to defeat ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and al-Nusra and the like,” adding: “I hope that this meeting as well would allow us to move forward.”

The plan presented by the two appeared to draw heavily on a recently circulated Russian initiative. With just two weeks elapsed since the Syria talks first convened, it could mark a significant advance, if successful.

It sets a Jan. 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition groups. Lavrov said the Syrian government already had put forward its representatives, with the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to begin immediate work on determining who should sit at the table as part of the opposition team.

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 UN-supervised election within 18 months, said a joint statement released by the UN on behalf of the 19 parties to the talks.

However, holes remained.

While the diplomats agreed on a UN-administered cease fire enforcement mechanism they failed to reach consensus on which groups other than the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates would not be eligible for the truce. Under the terms, the sponsoring countries of each group covered by the cease fire would be responsible for making sure that group upholds it.

Lavrov said Jordan would oversee a process that would identify which groups should be considered for identification as terrorists, so they would not be eligible. That is to be completed by the time the political process between the government and opposition begins in January.

Comments from the two also reflected continued differences on the causes of the extremist threat emanating from Syria. Kerry suggested radicals were drawn to the country in their fight against al-Assad, a view Lavrov disputed.

US-Russian disputes on what, if any, role al-Assad should play in any transition remained, although both men played them down as they focused on the progress made.

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