Deal reached to help Syria form new govt by 2017

US Air Force fighter jets on anti-ISIS operations at Incirlik airbase in Turkey. Russia, the US and major EU and Middle East countries on Saturday outlined a plan for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years.
US Air Force fighter jets on anti-ISIS operations at Incirlik airbase in Turkey. Russia, the US and major EU and Middle East countries on Saturday outlined a plan for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years.PHOTO: REUTERS

World powers put aside differences after Paris attacks, adopt timeline to end Syrian civil war

VIENNA • Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria's civil war and adopted a timeline that will let opposition groups help draft a Constitution and elect a new government by 2017.

Russia, the United States and major European and Middle East countries on Saturday outlined a plan in Vienna for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, though differences remained on key issues such as President Bashar al-Assad's fate.

As a first step, the United Nations agreed to convene Syria's government with opposition representatives by Jan 1, said US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Vienna on Saturday.

HUNT MILITANTS DOWN

It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometre in which to hide.

UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY

The Paris attacks shifted the focus of negotiations in Vienna from the detail of which organisations would count as opposition groups - rather than terrorist ones, and could therefore take part in a political solution in Syria - to defeating the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militarily, diplomats said.

A ceasefire between the government in Damascus and recognised opposition groups should be in place within six months, according to their statement. The terrorist attacks in Paris galvanised the diplomats, who at previous talks had been unable to resolve the discord within their ranks.

While Russia and Iran sided with President Assad, the US and its regional allies insisted on his removal. With diplomats bogged down over the question of Mr Assad, terrorist groups like ISIS have grown and become more powerful inside Syria.

Mr Kerry, who spoke in French at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart after the talks, said the attacks only strengthened his country's resolve to fight terrorism. The talks began with a moment's silence for the victims in Paris.

"It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometre in which to hide," Mr Kerry said. "There can be no doubt that this crisis is not Syria's alone to bear."

Mr Kerry said Mr Assad has "cut his own deal" with ISIS - buying oil from the group and failing to attack militants. Mr Assad's allies have conveyed that he is prepared to be serious and engage in talks, but the "proof will be in the pudding," Mr Kerry said.

In a statement posted on Twitter, ISIS said the Paris attacks that killed 129 people and injured 352 came in retribution for French involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The conflict has, so far, claimed about 250,000 lives. Millions of people have fled the region, triggering Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Diplomats meeting in the Austrian capital also decided to place ISIS, along with the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, on a list of those subject to military strikes even when a ceasefire is in place. The list, managed by Jordan, may later be expanded to include other groups in Syria, Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov said.

The Paris attacks "show that it doesn't matter if you're for Mr Assad or against him", said Mr Lavrov, "ISIS is your enemy".

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who sat between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov at the news conference, said the 18-month plan to establish a new Syrian government was "very challenging but possible".

Mr Abdulbaset Sieda, a member of the exiled, Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the timeframe for a planned election sounded too ambitious.

He said: "I am not sure it will be in 18 months' time. Of course, we need to be hopeful for the future, but we need more time," Mr Sieda told Reuters on the sidelines of the Vienna talks. "A realistic timeframe... is two to three years."

Mr Kerry said: "The impact of the war bleeds into all of our nations. It is time for the bleeding in Syria to stop."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'Deal reached to help Syria form new govt by 2017'. Print Edition | Subscribe