Major powers ‘agree to disagree’ on Syria

October 31, 2015  

Major powers who met in Vienna on Friday remained divided over Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s fate, agreeing to disagree for the time being.

Key backers of Syria’s rival sides meeting in Vienna sought to narrow their divisions over a conflict that has claimed a quarter of a million lives and triggered an exodus of refugees to Europe.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had “agreed to disagree” with his Iranian and Russian counterparts on the fate of the Syrian leader, according to the AFP news agency.

Kerry said Washington still believes Assad leaving office would smooth the path to a deal to end Syria’s war and help to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif who joined the talks on Syria for the first disagreed, admitted Kerry, but all three would continue to work together to pursue a political settlement.

He said the participants had agreed to ask the United Nations to broker a ceasefire. Kerry and Lavrov also said they had agreed that Syria must emerge from war as a unified secular state.

Top diplomats from 17 countries, as well as the United Nations and the European Union, gathered in Vienna for the talks bringing together all the main outside players in the four-year-old crisis for the first time.

The Syrian regime and the opposition were not represented.

Participants found common ground in some areas although they remained divided over Assad’s future, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

“There are points of disagreement, but we advanced enough for us to meet again, in the same configuration, in two weeks,” he told reporters, according to AFP, adding, “The main disagreement is the future role of Mr. Bashar Al-Assad.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir — whose kingdom supports anti-regime rebels — was sat almost as far from his Iranian counterpart as was possible at the tight U-shaped table in a conference room of Vienna’s Imperial Hotel. Al-Jubeir had expressed skepticism before the summit about the intentions of both Iran and of Russia with regards to Assad.

Russia and Saudi Arabia also exchanged a list of Syrian opposition groups with which they have contact, Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said, quoted by RIA Novosti state news agency.

As the participants met, at least 89 people, including 17 children, were killed on Friday in attacks on opposition strongholds in the north and outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Most died when more than a dozen rockets fired by government forces crashed into Douma, a town on the eastern edges of the capital, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

AFP contributed to this report.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)

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