Vienna (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Talks on a political solution to the civil war in Syria got under way today in Vienna (Austria) with major regional and international players, some lined up on either side of Syria’s civil war.
Syria itself was not represented, but senior envoys were present from Turkey, Italy, Britain, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Germany, Qatar, France, the UAE, Oman, the United States, China, as well as the European Union, evidence that the country’s fate is being shaped by outside powers.
This comes a month after Russia entered the Syrian conflict with airstrikes against the Islamic State and other Jihadi groups. Washington and Moscow are still far apart, but the Vienna meeting is an attempt to internationalise a conflict that has left 250,000 people dead since March 2011.
Within the broader framework of the civil war and the fight against the Islamic State group and other Jihadi groups, the fate of Syrian President al-Assad remains one of the main issue.
Expressing confidence, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged participants to be flexible. "My sincere hope is that they will really address this issue with a sense of flexibility, whatever differences they may have in their political views, in their approaches” because “there is no military solution."
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, are present. The two Mideast powers are the main backers of the two camps vying for supremacy in Syria.
Tehran is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whilst the Saudis strongly support the opposition (including Jihadi groups like the al-Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front) who want to overthrow the current government.
Most of the countries were represented by their foreign ministers but China sent Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong. The United Nations was represented by its special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
The meeting in Vienna will seek 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.
Russia and Iran have recently stepped up their military involvement in the conflict, backing forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Western governments have tried to downplay expectations concerning the talks, given how complex and bloody the conflict has become with so many Jihadi groups, including the Islamic State.
Today’s summit is an attempt to find common ground to discuss, with no one really sure if that is possible.
Still, the United States and its European and Arab allies, plus Turkey, have given some ground on the critical question of President Assad's role in any future process of transition, suggesting that although he would have to step down, it didn't have to be immediately.
The key question now is whether his two main backers, Russia and Iran, will give any ground on their side. Iran indicated on Friday that it favoured a six-month "transition" period in Syria followed by elections to decide the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the US would continue supporting certain Syrian rebel groups, sending weapons and ammunition (which in the past have ended up in the hands of jihadi groups).