U.S., Iran and Russia ‘agree to disagree’ on Assad’s fate in Syria: Kerry

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Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, during a summit on Aug. 6. File photo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday he had “agreed to disagree” with his Iranian and Russian counterparts on the fate of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, as 17 world powers – including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran – met in Vienna to try to find a political solution on the Syrian civil war.

Kerry said Washington continues to believe Assad leaving power would smooth the path to a deal to end Syria’s civil war and help the fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif disagreed, he admitted, but all three would continue to work together to pursue a political settlement. Both Kerry and Lavrov agreed that Syria must emerge from civil war as a unified secular state.

Meanwhile, the 17 powers who had met in Vienna collectively called on Friday for a nationwide truce in Syria’s four-year civil war, a renewal of stalled U.N.-brokered talks between the government and opposition and fresh elections.

In a joint statement after talks in Vienna, the participants said “substantial differences remain”, though they agreed it was “imperative to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war”.

The major powers will meet again in two weeks’ time for another round of talks, the German and French foreign ministers said on Friday in Vienna, after an initial marathon round of discussion.

“We discussed all issues, even the most difficult,” France’s Laurent Fabius told reporters after an initial round of talks, which for the first time brought together all the main foreign actors in the conflict.

“There are points of disagreement, but we advanced enough for us to meet again, in the same configuration, in two weeks,” he added.

A total of 17 countries plus the United Nations and European Union are taking part in the talks, held in a hotel in the Austrian capital.  Syria itself was not represented.

Senior envoys from Turkey, Italy, Britain, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Germany, Qatar, France, the UAE, Oman, the United States and China were present.

In the first meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat at the head of the table, the first that brought together all the main outside players in the four-year-old Syrian crisis, including bitter foes Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was sat almost as far from his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif as was possible at the tight U-shaped table in the conference room of Vienna’s grand Imperial Hotel.

Most of the countries were represented by their foreign ministers but China sent vice foreign minister Li Baodong.

The United Nations was represented by its special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

The multi-lateral meeting in Vienna is the first to include Iran in efforts to find a political solution to end the four-year-long Syrian civil war, in which at least 200,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced.

Russia meanwhile on Friday said its airforce had destroyed 1,623 “terrorist targets” in Syria in a month-old bombing campaign to support forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Agencies

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