Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, said that world powers have all agreed to his political transition plan for Syria. The deal does not take a firm stance on the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
Annan's proposal would entail the formation of an interim government in Syria tasked with stopping the violence and cooling tensions in the war-torn country - if it can be implemented.
The transitional government "could include members of the present government and the opposition groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent," Annan said.
Prior to the talks in Geneva, it was thought that the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be a sticking point in negotiations. Though many nations sought a deal demanding Assad's removal, Russia and China were said to oppose such a plan. Annan said that Syrians from all sides would have to agree on who would be involved in the transition.
"It is for the people to come to a political agreement, but time is running out," Annan said. "We need rapid steps to reach agreement. The conflict must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiations."
When pressed on the specifics of Assad's involvement, Annan said he doubted "that Syrians who have fought so hard to have independence ... will select people with blood on their hands to lead them."
Clinton says the writing's on the wall
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, took a less diplomatic stance on what the deal would mean for the Syrian president.
"Assad will have to go," Clinton told a news conference shortly after the deal was announced. "What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power."
Washington's top diplomat also said that it now falls on Russia and China, Assad's traditional allies, "to show Assad the writing on the wall."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also welcomed the agreement, saying he was "delighted" that world powers had reached a consensus many had thought unlikely before the talks in Geneva. He said that it was up to Syrians to choose who will take part in their transition government.
"There are no demands to exclude any one group from this process," Lavrov said when asked about Assad's possible involvement. "This aspect had been present in many of our partners' proposals. We have convinced them that this is unacceptable."
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said after the talks that "outsiders cannot make decisions for the Syrian people," but he also said that Beijing fully supported Annan's mediation.
The high-level talks in Geneva brought together foreign ministers from the US, Russia, Britain, China, France, Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait and Iraq. EU foreign policy commissioner Catherine Ashton was also present. Annan had warned before the last-ditch negotiations that "history is a somber judge - and it will judge us all harshly if we prove incapable of taking the right path today."
Unrest has rocked Syria for almost 18 months, some rights groups estimate that more than 15,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
msh/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa)