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'Last hope' for Syrian peace talks in Vienna

January 25, 2018

In a last-ditch push for peace in Syria, UN officials are hosting peace talks between the Damascus regime and the opposition. The Vienna talks are scheduled just days ahead of Russia's rival peace summit.

Civil defense crews and citizens conduct search and rescue works after an airstrike
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/Q. Noor

Syria's warring parties are meeting for a two-day UN-sponsored peace summit in Vienna following a series of initiatives that have so far failed to end the seven-year civil war. 

"Today, there is no political perspective that presents itself, other than — and it's the last hope — the meeting that will be held in Vienna ... where we hope a peace agenda will be mapped out," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers in Paris.

Read more: Syria: Diplomatic skills required

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz welcomes UN envoy Staffan de Mistura
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz welcomes UN envoy Staffan de MisturaImage: picture alliance/Dragan Tatic/BKA/dpa

Both the Syrian government and the opposition alliance have agreed to send full delegations to Vienna, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters.

"By definition I am optimistic. ... It's a very critical moment. Very, very critical," he said, adding that the agenda would focus on revamping Syria's constitution.

Observers believe that this would allow UN representatives to sidestep the far more contentious issue of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his political future.

Assad has consistently rejected calls to step down in the past. Now, the regime seems likely to end the war militarily with the help of Russia's air power and Iran-backed militias, raising doubts about Assad's willingness to make any concessions.

Read more: Syria talks to start with or without Assad officials

Map showing teritories controlled by different Syria factions

West skeptical

As the two sides meet in Vienna, Russia is preparing to host a separate peace summit in the southern city of Sochi early next week.

Western and some Arab states have charged that Russia's peace bid undermines the UN-sponsored process.

"The United Nations has to be put back in the middle of the game. There is no question of letting the [UN-backed] process be hijacked, diverted or bypassed," a French diplomatic source said.

Read more: Russia, Turkey and Iran agree on mechanism to maintain Syria ceasefire

Nasr al-Hariri is the cheif negotiator for the Syrian opposition
Nasr al-Hariri is the cheif negotiator for the Syrian opposition Image: picture alliance / Ronald Zak/AP/dpa

Syrian opposition representatives said they were not yet sure whether they would attend the Sochi conference. The regime opponents still don't have enough information about the bid, said its chief negotiator Naser al-Hariri, commenting on the rumors that top regime representatives would be absent.

"Is Russia unable to really bring the regime to the negotiating table — or does it not want to bring them to the negotiating table?" Hariri told reporters in Vienna.

"The main place to achieve a political solution, a political transition is in the UN-led process. ... It is very dangerous to enter into any parallel initiative and ignore the main political process, which is here in the UN-led process," he added.

dj/rt (Reuters, AFP)