Political roadmap for Syria agreed by top diplomats in Vienna

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Top diplomats from the United States, Russia and several other countries reached an agreement Saturday on a political transition in Syria to end the country’s five-year civil war.

Representatives from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition fighting to oust him should meet by the end of the year, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the talks in Vienna concluded.

Under the roadmap laid out by the envoys, a transitional government is to be set up within six months and new elections with 18 months.

The process will be led by UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

Steinmeier acknowledged that the plan “sounds utopian” in light of the ongoing fighting, but he said the international community was more determined than ever to resolve the conflict that has cost the lives of more than 250,000 people since 2011.

Western powers, backing opposition rebels in Syria, have repeatedly demanded al-Assad step down to end the conflict, a position Russia has in the past resisted.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Vienna that he and his colleagues agreed that Syria’s ruling regime and the opposition should form a collaborative government within six months.

On the fate of al-Assad, he repeated that Russia believes “the future of al-Assad should be decided by the Syrian people.”

Representatives from China, Britain, France and Saudi Arabia were also among the participants.

Lavrov told reporters after the meeting that the powers agreed on a tentative list of the terrorist groups in Syria, notably including Islamic State and Al-Nursa Front.

Syria’s ruling regime has generally referred to all rebel groups in the country as terrorists.

But the United States and regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia are supporting some moderate rebel groups in the country to overthrow the ruling regime.

Lavrov said that Russia and the US, which are both conducting bombing campaigns in Syria against Islamic State, would discuss possible additions to the list of terrorist groups at a later time, state news agency TASS reported.

He added that Russia is ready to work with US-led coalition forces in their campaigns against Islamic State.

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