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article imageU.S. Secretary of State Kerry optimistic about Syria ceasefire

By Ken Hanly     Nov 18, 2015 in World
Vienna - John Kerry, US secretary of state, has given a positive assessment of efforts to negotiate a ceasefire between rebels aiming to overthrow Assad and his forces. Kerry claimed a ceasefire could be just weeks away.
Kerry claimed an agreement Saturday in Vienna for a ceasefire and talks between the Assad government and opposition groups would aid the international campaign against the Islamic State, a campaign made more urgent by the Paris attacks. The agreement in Vienna sets the date for a ceasefire much further in the future: The US, Russia, Britain, France, Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a statement supporting a 1 January deadline for the start of talks between the Syrian government and opposition, with the aim of agreeing a ceasefire by 14 May. There was no agreement on the status of Assad himself.
Nevertheless Kerry said of the Vienna agreement: “That’s a gigantic step. If we can get that done, that opens up the aperture for a whole bunch of things. We’re weeks away conceivably from the possibility of a big transition for Syria, and I don’t think enough people necessarily notice that. But that’s the reality.” Nineteen countries signed on to the agreement including rivals such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Elections would be held a year after the ceasefire agreement. No Syrians were at the Vienna meeting.
Jordan was given the task of drawing up a list of the Assad opposition groups who would be eligible to participate in negotiations. Not surprisingly, the Islamic State is barred from negotiations. However, Jabhat al-Nusra, a significant force among the anti-Assad rebels, will also be excluded due to its links to Al-Qaeda. There are a number of groups supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, as well as other Gulf States who work closely with Jabhat al-Nusra and may not be willing to abandon the group by giving up the battle against the Syrian regime.
Since the Vienna agreement leaves the status of Bashar al-Assad in limbo, many opposition groups may be unwilling to participate in talks. The western-backed Syrian National Opposition said it would not participate in talks unless there were guarantees that Assad would go. Opposition groups also worried that the vetting process could exclude other important but radical Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham.
Forty different rebel groups, in a joint statement, blame Assad for the Paris attacks and hold him responsible for the creation of the Islamic State. In contrast, Assad, in a meeting with French MPs in Damascus on Saturday, blamed the attacks on French policy saying: “The question that is being asked throughout France today is, was France’s policy over the past five years the right one?The answer is no.” France has made it clear it continues to support the opposition view that Assad must go for there to be a political settlement.
More about US Russia relations, Syrian civil war, ceasefire in Syria
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