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Calls for a truce in Syria after 'difficult but constructive' diplomatic talks in Vienna

Talks on Syria's civil war have ended in Vienna with diplomats calling for a nationwide truce and the renewal of a UN-led peace process. Germany's foreign minister says a new round of talks will be held in two weeks.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said diplomats at the Friday talks had agreed to work towards establishing a transitional government in Syria, holding new elections and implementing national or regional ceasefires.

But despite finding some common ground, the main bone of contention between participants remained the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"There was still no breakthrough, but that also wasn't expected today," Steinmeier told reporters in the Austrian capital, adding that the discussions to try and find a way out of the Syrian civil war would resume in two weeks.

"There are no illusions about the fact that most of the work still lies ahead."

Friday's multilateral talks involved the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and more than a dozen other countries, as well as representatives from the United Nations and the European Union.

It was the first time Syrian ally Iran had attended, but the Syrian regime and opposition were not invited to the table.

Syria's civil war began in 2011 as a popular uprising against President Assad's government, but later escalated into a multisided conflict involving Syrian government troops, opposition forces, "Islamic State" (IS) militants, Kurdish fighters and other groups. After more than four years of violence and bloodshed, more than 250,000 people have died and millions have fled their homes.

'Agree to disagree'

In a joint statement, the participants said they were asking the UN to bring together representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to launch "a political process leading to credible, inclusive, nonsectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and elections."

US Secretary of State John Kerry said after the talks that all countries - including regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia - had pledged to support an independent and secular Syria, to maintain the country's institutions, and to strive to defeat IS.

"Four-and-a-half years of war, we all believe, has been far too long," he told a news conference.

Kerry added that he had "agreed to disagree" with his Iranian and Russian counterparts on the question of what should happen to Syrian leader Assad. Russia and Iran remain the Syrian president's main backers, while the US, its Gulf Arab allies and Turkey say he must step down.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the news conference he believed "the Syrian people should decide Assad's fate."

"I did not say that Assad has to go or that Assad has to stay," he said.

Watch video 01:47

World and regional powers meet on Syria

US ramps up campaign

The new diplomatic push in Vienna came as the US announced plans to deploy US special operations forces in Syria to help local troops in the fight against IS militants.

Officials said an initial deployment of "fewer than 50" special forces would be sent to the north of the country - the first time American troops would be deployed openly on the ground in Syria.

The decision marks an escalation in Washington's efforts to defeat IS, which controls large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. The US has been carrying out airstrikes in both countries as part of an international coalition, but has been reluctant to send in ground forces.

Kerry said the timing of the announcement, as talks in Vienna were underway, was just a "coincidence."

nm/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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