High-level talks on the future of Syria have produced an agreement to seek meetings between the opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad by year's end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that there will be efforts to create a new constitution for the war-torn country and attempts to create a transitional government within 18 months.
Kerry and Steinmeier spoke at the end of a daylong meeting in Vienna of nearly 20 countries represented by foreign ministers and their deputies seeking to end Syria's war.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, talk of Syria as a breeding ground for violence moved to the foreground of the meeting on the war in that country, with participants linking the devastating shooting and bombing attacks to the Middle East turmoil and the opportunities it gives for attacks.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the attacks as they met with senior representatives from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries with strongly conflicting views on how to end the more than four-year war. Key differences include what role, if any, Assad should play in a transitional government.
Such differences appeared to be put aside at least temporarily at the meeting.
"These kinds of attacks are the most vile, horrendous, outrageous, unacceptable acts on the planet," said Kerry, after speaking with Lavrov and shortly before the main meeting convened at a luxurious Vienna hotel. "And the one thing we could say to those people is that what they do in this is stiffen our resolve, all of us, to fight back, to hold people accountable and to stand up for rule of law, which is exactly what we are here to do."
"And if they've done anything, they've encouraged us today to do even harder work to make progress and to help resolve the crises that we face," he said.
Lavrov, standing next to Kerry, said there was "no justification for terrorist acts and no justification for us not doing much more to defeat ISIS and Al-Nusra and the like," referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra. "I hope that this meeting as well would allow us to move forward."
Before the meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the attacks in Paris made it all the more necessary for the international community to find a common approach in Syria and to violence — sentiments echoed by the foreign ministers of Germany, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the Paris attacks "[reaffirm] our collective commitment" to fight violence wherever it may occur. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said no one could turn away from the common threat. "We are together in this — Europeans, Arabs, East and West, all the international community," she declared. "The best response to this is actually coming together, overcoming our differences and trying together to lead the way toward peace in Syria."
More than 250,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war, and 11 million have been uprooted from their homes. The conflict has allowed ISIL fighters to carve out significant parts of Syria and Iraq for their self-declared caliphate. Europe and Syria's neighbors, meanwhile, are struggling to cope with the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
The Associated Press