Major powers meeting in Vienna have failed to reach an agreement on Syria, especially the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but found enough “common ground” to meet for a new round of talks in two weeks, even as the conflict enters a new phase with the deployment of US special forces in the war-torn country.
“There were tough conversations today,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference on Friday. “This is the beginning of a new diplomatic process.”
Kerry acknowledged that those present have major differences regarding the Assad regime.
“But we cannot allow the differences to get in the way of diplomacy to end the killing.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier said that all issues were discussed, “even the most difficult” during the 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.”
Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, said there is “hope” for a political process to advance, saying that those involved in the talks “found common ground” for further discussion.
“It was a very long and very substantial meeting. This was not an easy one, but for sure a historical one,” she said while praising “those who took difficult decisions” in joining the talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that those present at the meeting were speaking for a “long time” to push for an inclusive Syrian-led peace process.
Among the points agreed upon during the talks was that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group cannot be allowed to reign in Syria, Lavrov said.
In a rare hint of diplomatic progress, Tehran signalled it would back a six-month political transition period in Syria followed by elections to decide Assad’s fate, although his foes rejected the proposal as a trick to keep the president in power.
In addition to Assad’s fate, on which delegates said no breakthrough had been expected, sticking points have long included the question of which rebel groups should be considered “terrorists” and which should be involved in the political process.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Vienna, said that there’s a “mood of optimism” following the talks.
“There is a sense of hopefulness, which has been absent in these talks for quite a long time now.”
The talks on Friday come as Syrian government air strikes continue in rebel-held territories, killing at least 61 people and wounding over 100 other people in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
A further 80 people were killed in regime and Russian air strikes in Aleppo province.
Friday’s talks in the Austrian capital included an Iranian delegation for the first time.
Representatives from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, the European Union, and other Arab states also attended.
As the foreign ministers talk in Vienna, the US announced that a small number of US special operations forces will be sent to northern Syria to work with local troops in the fight against ISIL, marking the first time Americans will be deployed openly on the ground in the country.
President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of fewer than 50 commandos to help coalition forces coordinate with local troops, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday.