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Syria: Kerry says he has "agreed to disagree" with Russia and Iran

BEIRUT | - October 31, 2015, 10h38

Allies and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gathered in Vienna on Friday. For the first time since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the meeting included Iran, a strong ally of the Assad’s regime.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov said Friday that they agreed Syria must emerge from civil war as unified secular state, and state institutions must remain intact.

However, Kerry also said that he had "agreed to disagree" with his Iranian and Russian counterparts on the fate of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. 

According to the AFP agency, Kerry said Washington continues to believe Assad leaving power would smooth the path to a deal to end Syria's civil war and help the fight to defeat ISIS.  He stated that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif disagreed. But he added that all three would continue to work together to pursue a political settlement.

The BBC reported that after nearly eight hours of talks, the ministers agreed on a number of points, including:

Inviting the UN to convene Syria's government and opposition to launch a new political process that is "credible, inclusive, non-sectarian";

A new constitution and UN-backed elections that involve all Syrians, including members of the diaspora and of all ethnicities;

Improved access to humanitarian aid for Syrians in and outside the country;

Working with the UN to "explore modalities for, and implementation of, a nationwide ceasefire";

Meanwhile, US officials announced that the United States were to send special forces to Syria to assist anti-government rebels in fighting the Islamic State. This will be the first time US troops are working openly on the ground in Syria. According to a senior administration official quoted by the BBC, this does not signal a change in US strategy but an "intensification" of the current campaign, in reference to the US special forces raids on IS militants.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the move increased the risk of a "proxy war" developing in the region and urged greater co-operation between the US and Russian militaries. "I am convinced that neither the United States nor Russia of course want any kind of slide into a so-called proxy war," he said, following his meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Vienna.

The war in Syria began with an uprising against President Assad in 2011. So far, it has left 250,000 people dead and forced 11 million people from their homes.

#Iran, #Russia, #Syria
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