After eight hours of negotiations in Vienna on Friday, diplomats from 17 countries, the European Union and the United Nations failed to reach an agreement on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The delegations did, however, agree on the necessity of a UN-brokered ceasefire between the regime and opposition groups in Syria.
The meeting included delegations from the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Britain, Lebanon and Germany, among others.
While the gathering brought together an unprecedented combination of delegations – most significantly Saudi Arabia and Iran – there were no representatives from the Syrian regime or its opposition.
Al-Jazeera reported that the delegates were unable to agree on which rebel groups should be deemed as “terrorists” and which should be involved in talks.
The main point of contention was Assad’s date of expiry, as Russia and Iran – his two main backers – continued to insist that he must stay in power, while the Arab powers, the US and Britain all believe his departure is integral to the peace process.
According to AFP, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that, while the US believes there is no place for Assad in Syria’s future, that belief will not stand in the way of pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis.
Meanwhile, the United States White House also announced on Friday that President Barack Obama approved a plan to send up to 50 special operations troops to Syria to “advise moderate rebels”.
The armed opposition to Assad’s regime primarily consists of the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front and ISIS militants. The Free Syrian Army has captured some territories, primarily in southern Syria; however, ISIS has made much more significant territorial gains, with nine Syrian provinces currently under its control.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrians must be the ones to decide on Assad’s fate through elections, which the UN will supervise.
However, rebel groups said the idea of a vote is not feasible considering Syria’s current conditions, particularly the large-scale displacement.
The war in Syria, which is approaching its fifth year and has claimed as many as 330,000 lives, has put in motion the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Millions of Syrians fled the country to seek refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, while others set their sights on Germany and other Western European countries.
The delegations are due to meet again in two weeks to continue discussing the crisis and Assad’s fate.