Representatives from more than a dozen countries converged in Vienna on Nov. 14, 2015, to find diplomatic channels to end the Syrian conflict. However, the peace talks were eclipsed by the brutal Paris terror attacks on Nov. 13, which left 129 dead and over 350 injured. Although diplomats including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura agreed on a formal plan to have elections within two years, there are sharp differences with regards to the role of President Bashar al-Assad in the peace settlement.
“We still differ, obviously, on the issue of what happens with Assad,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting. He also stated that the ultimate goal of the Vienna proposals was to empower Syrians to lead the political processes with the current leadership. The Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group, largely seen as being backed by the West, has also, on several platforms, rejected any peace negotiations that include the incumbent president. Monzer Akbik, a member of the coalition, has called for rejecting “the dictatorship of Assad” and any veiled support the Russians might wish to pledge in support of the current leadership.
While the U.S and most its allies view Assad’s presence as a stumbling block towards the peace talks, Russia and Iran continue to shore up support for the embattled leader. Speaking at a joint conference after the meeting, the Russian foreign minister reiterated his country’s rhetoric on Assad. Lavrov told reporters, “The Syrian future and that of Mr. Assad will be decided by the Syrian people alone.” Iran has also weighed in with diplomatic support for Assad’s presidency. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said, “The political future of current leadership should only be decided by the people in democratic elections.”
The conflict in the Middle East region is blamed on the radical terror group Islamic State (ISIS). Following the Paris attacks, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, the top diplomats on the Syrian conflict seem to all agree with French President Francois Hollande’s call for a “merciless response” against the caliphate. Although the U.S. has sent a few special forces to counter the insurgencies in the war-torn country, the horrific Paris attacks that eclipsed the Syria peace talks in Vienna has given the world leaders the impetus to crush the extreme Islamic State.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the attacks in Paris will give the participants in the peace talks determination to tackle ISIS. He said the world cannot stand and watch while a few extremists create a “vicious circle” of terror and anarchy. Kerry also said that it is time for the world to fight terror groups anywhere in the world, adding that the war in Syria “bleeds into all of our nations.” The Russians are of the view that the recent Paris attacks that eclipsed the Syria peace talks in Vienna have shown that Assad is not the problem in the Middle East region. Speaking to reporters at a joint news conference flanked by Kerry and the U.N. envoy, Lavrov said, “It is time the world create an effective international coalition against ISIS.”
Meanwhile, another meeting for the diplomats is scheduled for next month. Additionally, a target date is set for Jan. 1, 2016, to begin formal mediation between the Assad government and the opposition to formulate a political conclusion to the conflict in Syria.
By Shepherd Mutsvara
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Washington Post: Administration will soon be Forced to confront big Decisions on Syria
The Independent: Syrian Peace Talks: Russian’s Leaked Plan Shows Some Flexibility But War Will Not End as Long as Assad Stays In Power
The New York Times: Attacks in Paris Add Urgency to Talks on Ending Syria War
Featured Image Courtesy of United States Mission Geneva’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Peter Stevens’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License