Nations agree on new Syria talks

In Vienna on Friday, the US, Russian Federation and more than a dozen other nations directed the U.N.to start a new diplomatic process between Syria’s government and opposition groups with the goal of reaching a nationwide cease-fire and political transition – but without an explicit demand for Assad to quickly leave power.

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The United States is to step up its fight against Islamic State in both countries, having made a decision to station special forces in Syria to support rebels fighting against the jihadists, position more USA jets in Turkey and expand air strikes.

Foreign ministers of arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran are sitting on the same negotiating table for the first-time since the outbreak of civil-war in Syria in 2011.

The USA promise of cash, which American officials say brings to almost $500 million the amount pledged to the opposition since 2012, coincided with the completion of global talks to pursue a new peace effort involving Syria’s Iranian-backed government and opposition groups.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters talks would resume within two weeks, at the same time warning that there would be no quick solution to a situation in Syria that is “beyond description”.

The decision is part of a package of other steps to beef up the fight against Islamic State, including sending more warplanes to the region and discussing with Iraq the establishment of a special forces task force there.

Assad and Iran accuse Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies of being behind terrorism in Syria through their backing of rebel groups.

Lavrov said that stake holders initiated a political process to find a solution for ending the crisis in Syria, but there is still difference over the future of al-Assad.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and global Affairs Seyyed Abbas Araqchi held talks with European Union Political Director Helga Schmid, as the representative of the P5+1, over the two sides’ measures for the implementation of the JCPOA.

On Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 64 people, including 28 children, had been killed by Syrian army and Russian air raids in the northern province of Aleppo in the past 24 hours.

Russia’s airstrikes in Syria are widely seen as a move to shore up Assad’s hold of certain parts of the country.

Air strikes by Turkish and US- aircraft in Syria on Saturday killed more than 50 Islamic State militants, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said on Sunday.

A senior administration official said the USA has made good progress in Iraq and Syria when working with effective partners on the ground who can regain territory lost to the Islamic State.

This would allow an end to the war and ensure “Syrian people elect whomever they want in a safe and peaceful environment”, he added, without mentioning Iran’s support for Assad.

The four-year-old war in Syria, which began with an uprising against President Assad, has left 250,000 people dead and forced half the country’s population – or 11 million people – from their homes.

The participation by Russian Federation and Iran in the attempt could mark a new and promising phase in the diplomacy since those countries have staunchly backed Assad.

Western countries accuse Iran of running military operations in Syria, but Tehran denies the accusations.

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But there was agreement to meet in two weeks to put more specifics into the basic principles they issued Friday night, which included a commitment to keep Syria together as a single nation – just at a moment it seems headed toward splintering.

Brendan Smialowski  Pool via The New York Times