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Lavrov to take part in Vienna talks on Syria

October 29, 2015, 2:49 UTC+3 VIENNA
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VIENNA, October 29. /TASS/. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is leaving for Vienna on Thursday to take part in multi-party meetings on the Syrian settlement.

Talks are expected to take two days. Foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will have a meeting on Thursday to be joined by envoys from other leading world powers and countries of the region on Friday. In all, according to the British Foreign Office, the talks are expected to involve representatives of 13 states.

Participants in the talks did not say whether they planned any other contacts over their stay in Vienna but such talks are typically seen as an opportunity for bilateral meetings. Thus, on October 23, when the four foreign ministers had their first meeting in Vienna, Lavrov held bilateral talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

Vienna Four

On Thursday, Vienna will host talks of the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Washington-initiated talks in this format were first held less than a week ago. The four top diplomats - Sergei Lavrov of Russia, John Kerry of the United States, Adil al-Jubayr of Saudi Arabia and Feridum Sinirlioglu of Turkey - failed to arrive at a breakthrough solution in the Syrian settlement. But all reiterated their commitment to continue efforts to settle the crisis on the basis of the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012 and counter terrorism [however there is no certainty that all of them have common views on which of the opposition groups could be called terrorist]. So, it was decided to step up settlement efforts. Today’s talks are expected to focus on that subject.

As the Saudi foreign minister said after the first meeting, the only debatable issue was the fate of Syria’s President Bashar Assad. He said his country did not see a place for him in Syria’s future. Russia, Lavrov stressed, kept on insisting that Assad’s fate was to be decided only by the Syrian people.

Apart from that, after the October 23 talks in Vienna, the Russian foreign minister said that negotiations on Syria were to involve more countries, including the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and regional players such as Egypt and Iran. He said the optimum number of mediators in the Syrian settlement could be ten to twelve states and associations. So, the new meeting that is to be attended by 13 states, including Iran and Egypt, is in keeping with the Russian position.

Friday, 13 Ministers

The list of participants in an extended ministerial meeting on Friday is as follows: Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Germany, France, Egypt, Italy, and Great Britain. The 13 foreign ministers will be joined by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Notably, Iran, which took part in neither the Geneva-1 nor Geneva-2 conferences, will be present at Friday’s talks. Russia and Egypt each hosted two meetings of representatives of Syrian opposition in a bid to elaborate a common platform for talks with the Syrian government. Apart from that, the meeting will involve a number of regional players, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, which are traditionally assigned a major role in the Syrian conflict by supporting the Syrian opposition. Practically all members of the United Nations Security Council will be present too, but for China. Notably, participants in the Friday meeting are those countries, but for China again, that met here in June-July 2015 over the Iranian nuclear programme. Their experience of compromise could be useful for settling another global problem.

Goals Clear

A major topic for discussion at the Vienna talks will be anti-terror efforts. Russia’s key tasks in this sphere are to identify targets for its air strikes against extremist groups and to establish contacts with Syria’s patriotic opposition which is ready to counter terrorism.

Countries that support Syria’s opposition are likely to once again raise the subject of President Assad’s future. The Saudi foreign minister has already announced such plans.

The key task is to help form a representative delegation of the Syrian opposition that would take part in talks with the government. Russia and Egypt have certain experience on that track. This subject was in focus of Lavrov’s contacts in Qatar in early August [when he met with Kerry and al-Jubayr, along with the Qatari foreign minister]. It is not rule out these efforts will be continued in Vienna.

It is not yet known whether the Vienna talks would yield any official documents.

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