World powers meet to save Syria peace hopes

Vienna: Senior envoys from world and regional powers gathered once again in Vienna today in an effort to salvage stumbling efforts to halt Syria’s civil war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — diplomacy’s odd couple, at loggerheads over much else in the world — are chairing the meeting, which began shortly after 0700 GMT.

At the gathering, the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG) will renew its call for a nationwide ceasefire and immediate humanitarian access to besieged areas.

But headaches were likely to persist over the third plank of the plan — a call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the rebels to agree on a framework for a political transition.

US officials travelling with Kerry say Washington still insists Assad should go, with an August 1 deadline for settling on the framework under which he does so.

But the Syrian president, bolstered by military support from Russia and Iran, has shown no sign he is prepared to leave.

“There is no lasting future for Syria with Assad,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he arrived for the Vienna talks.

“That’s why we need to discuss, under the auspices of the UN, what a transition government could look like and put things on the right track,” he added.

So far, UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva under international envoy Staffan de Mistura have made little headway and now even Washington’s allies privately doubt the August 1 date will be met.

“The target for August is to have a framework in place, a framework agreed, for a political transition,” a senior State Department official told reporters in Vienna ahead of the meeting.

“We’re talking to the Russians, trying to get a better environment for the political negotiations,” he said.

“Particularly on the regime side.”

The opposition coalition, the official said, had been more open about how they would like to see the deal negotiated but Assad’s people — while publicly backing talks — have not engaged.

“The regime is just not there, and I think that’s really the key to it,” he said.