Saturday, October 31, 2015

Syria Conflict: Progress Made at Vienna Meeting
October 31, 2015

VIENNA/MOSCOW. — World leaders said progress has been made in talks to resolve Syria’s civil war after “historic” talks in Vienna, but they continue to differ on the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Vienna talks involved Iran, Syria’s ally, for the first time.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, said there were grounds to start a UN-led peace process.

The meeting sought to close the gap between the US and its allies, who support the rebels, and the key foreign allies of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran.

The four-year-old war in Syria, which began with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has left 250 000 people dead and forced half the country’s population — or 11 million people — from their homes.

Russia and Iran have recently stepped up their military involvement in the conflict, backing forces loyal to Mr Assad.

But the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations have long insisted that Assad cannot play a long-term role in Syria’s future.

After the eight-hour meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was some common agreement among those attending, including on a new Syrian constitution and the role of the UN in Syria.

“As far as we are concerned, we think that Bashar al-Assad has no place in the future of Syria,” Fabius said. “Other people, other countries think differently, particularly Iran.”

More talks will be held within two weeks, he said.

“This meeting was definitely not an easy one,” said Ms Mogherini, “but for sure an historic one as we had, for the first time, all the actors around the table and I would say a very constructive atmosphere.”

Meanwhile, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared “the world needs Russia” as he met with the country’s leader Vladimir Putin in a controversial visit to Moscow Thursday.

“I’m happy to be here in Moscow, and you know my conviction that the world needs Russia,” Sarkozy told reporters ahead of his hour-and-forty-five-minute-long closed door meeting with Putin at the Russian leader’s residence just outside the capital.

“Russia and Europe should work together. . . To discuss, listen and respect, this is the destiny of France and Russia.”

The meeting between the two men, the third since Sarkozy left the Elysée Palace in 2012, comes at a time of fraught relations between the Kremlin and current French President François Hollande over Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and recent military intervention in Syria.

Hollande has been one of the most outspoken opponents of working with Putin’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in finding a solution to the Syria conflict.

In a speech before students of the MGIMO, Moscow’s prestigious Institute of International Relations, Sarkozy called on the West to end Russia’s isolation and declared the country an “indispensable” partner in resolving the conflict in Syria.

“We must merge the two coalitions into one,” Sarkozy said, referring to the rival US- and Russia-led military campaigns.

“Without Russia, one cannot meet the great challenges of this world,” he said, adding that the global role of Putin is “more positive than negative, despite our differences”.

A smiling Putin praised Sarkozy for his “impressive” speech.

“I am so happy to see you, Nicolas,” Putin said warmly.

Paris blasts Sarkozy’s ‘parallel diplomacy’

The trip has not gone down well with Paris, however.

French junior minister for higher education and research Thierry Mandon said Sarkozy had no business short-circuiting French foreign policy.

“Diplomacy is complicated, he is like a dog in a bowling alley in this affair,” he said on France 2 television.

The vice president of the French parliament’s France-Russia friendship group, Green Party member François Michel-Lambert, said Sarkozy’s “parallel diplomacy” was damaging for the country.

“It is amazing that the former head of state does not have a sense of statesmanship,” he said. — Agencies.

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