‘All relevant actors’ gather in Vienna for decisive Syria talks

The multinational meeting in Vienna between “all relevant actors,” according to the EU’s foreign policy chief, is an important step in defining a “common space” for the political settlement of the ongoing crisis in Syria.

The aim of the talks, during which almost 20 representatives will sit at the negotiating table, is to draft a plan that would hopefully provide for a ceasefire in the four-year conflict and pave the way for the process of political transition – and at the same time allow the unification of efforts to battle the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other jihadist groups.

Foreign ministers from the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey arrived for a four-way meeting in the Austrian capital on Thursday.

With Iran set to join the larger meeting on Friday morning, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that Tehran “has a stabilizing power in the region,” IRNA news agency reported. He stressed that without Iran it will be “impossible to reach a logical solution.”

Ahead of the main discussions, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini held a bilateral meeting with Zarif where she praised Russia’s effort for trying to bring peace to Syria.

Talking to reporters she expressed hope that the high-stakes meeting will become the first step towards the settlement of the Syrian crisis, where the US and Russia are leading their own anti-ISIS campaigns.

“I believe it is very important that ... we will have all the relevant actors, regionally and internationally, relevant actors playing around the same table trying to define a common space for the beginning of the political process to find a solution to the crisis in Syria," the EU’s foreign policy chief said.

“Let’s see if the work we have done in coordination with the US, with Russia in these days, in these weeks, allow us to open this political space and create the possibility for a follow up for a beginning of a process that can lead us to a political transition in Syria,” Mogherini told the journalists outside the Hotel Imperial in Vienna.

Hours before departing to Vienna, Mogherini told RIA news agency in Rome that Russia played a critical role in assembling the international meeting in the Austrian capital, stressing that Moscow “understands” that its air campaign in Syria has to be followed up with “political and diplomatic efforts.”

Syria has been in turmoil since 2011, with government troops engaged in fighting on multiple fronts against the so-called moderate opposition factions and jihadist groups, including the Islamic State and Al Nusra Front. Over 250,000 people have fallen victim to the hostilities, according to some estimates, while half of the population had to relocate either internally or flee the country as refugees.

The United States and its allies have supported the “moderate rebels,” while demanding President’s Bashar Assad’s resignation, claiming that he has lost all legitimacy, but offering no viable alternative. In August last year, Washington stepped up its role in the conflict and began bombing IS targets without consulting Damascus.

Russia and Iran recognize Assad as the legitimate Syrian authority. Russia has been conducting precision airstrikes on IS positions in Syria at the request of President Bashar Assad since September 30, which according to the Russian General Staff have already resulted in a large-scale militant retreat and the loss of much of their weaponry and equipment.