Zarif Attends Syria Peace Talks in Vienna

Zarif Attends Syria Peace Talks in ViennaZarif Attends Syria Peace Talks in Vienna

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is to attend a fresh round of Syria peace talks today in Vienna.

The meeting brings together representatives from the US, Russia, China, regional and European powers, as well as the Syrian government and opposition groups.

Zarif’s deputies will accompany him in the peace conference, which will be co-chaired by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, IRNA reported on Monday.

It is the latest of several meetings held since late September last year, aimed at settling a five-year-old civil war in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and allowed for the rise of the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad supported by Iran and Russia have been fighting a patchwork of armed groups that are seeking to dislodge him with the backing of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and western states.

The 17 countries and three international bodies involved in the discussions, known as the International Syria Support Group, agreed in a November meeting on a roadmap outlining a peace process that envisaged a ceasefire, talks between the Syrian government and opposition and a roughly two-year timeline to establish a unity government and hold elections.

  Aiming to Bolster Ceasefire

The US State Department has said the talks will focus on bolstering the cessation of hostilities, ensuring access to humanitarian aid for all Syrians and accelerating the process of the political transition.

A “cessation of hostilities” in place since late February has been strained to breaking point by frequent violations, which each side blames on the other.

The talks do not include IS or Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Earlier this month, the United States and Russia brokered a separate truce in the city of Aleppo, where fighting has recently escalated.

The increasingly shaky cessation of hostilities has slowed aid delivery to Syrians.

A document recently released to reporters from the UN Inter-Agency Humanitarian Operations showed that in April there had only been four aid operations and only 0.8% of people in besieged areas had been reached, Reuters reported.

In comparison, during March, some 19 operations reached about 21% of people in those areas.

Kerry said in a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Jeddah on Sunday that he hopes to strengthen the “cessation of hostilities” agreement between Syrian government forces and rebels, and to increase humanitarian aid deliveries to besieged areas.

He said he would try “to make sure that we can get this cessation better footed and, frankly, better observed and implemented throughout the country.”

Lavrov and Zarif also discussed today’s meeting and the implementation of the ceasefire in a phone call a week ago.

“It was stressed that during the planned meeting of [the ISSG], the primary focus should be ... the fight against IS and Al-Nusra and stopping their supply channels from abroad,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Arab diplomats say Saudi Arabia sees the US support for the militants as inadequate and fears that Washington may abandon their shared stance that Assad must leave power as part of any negotiated political deal.

Syria’s main opposition group, the High Negotiations Council, told Reuters last month that it would be willing to share equally a transitional council with the government, but repeated its rejection of a role for Assad.