VIENNA: Senior envoys from world and regional powers gathered once again in Vienna today in an effort to salvage stumbling efforts to halt Syr¬ia’s civil war.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — di¬plomacy’s odd couple, at log¬gerheads over much else in the world — are chairing the meet¬ing, which began shortly after 0700 GMT.
At the gathering, the 17-na¬tion International Syria Sup¬port Group (ISSG) will renew its call for a nationwide cease¬fire and immediate humanitar¬ian 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 travel¬ling with Kerry say Washing¬ton 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 gov¬ernment could look like and put things on the right track,” he added.
So far, UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva under interna¬tional envoy Staffan de Mistu¬ra have made little headway and now even Washington’s al¬lies 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 politi¬cal transition,” a senior State Department official told re¬porters in Vienna ahead of the meeting.
“We’re talking to the Rus¬sians, trying to get a better en¬vironment for the political ne¬gotiations particularly on the regime side,” he said.
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 pub¬licly backing talks — have not engaged.
“The regime is just not there, and I think that’s really the key to it,” he said.