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14 Nov, 2015 10:43

Syria talks in Vienna overshadowed by Paris massacre

World and regional powers will discuss the Syrian peace process in Vienna on Saturday, as the world struggles to cope with the terrorist attacks in Paris. Islamic State, one of the key players in the Syrian conflict, claims responsibility for the crime.

"Without a doubt, what happened in Paris last night, cannot fail to affect the present atmosphere, and the negotiation process," Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said.

READ MORE: Monstrous wave of Paris attacks underlines France’s year of terror

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the talks in Vienna would strengthen coordination of the international effort to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

"One of the objectives of the Vienna meeting is to see how we can strengthen the international fight against Daesh [Arabic term for Islamic State]," Fabius told reporters in Vienna, as cited by Reuters.

The string of terrorist attacks in Paris happened on the eve of the meeting in Vienna, where the paths for resolution of the years-long war in Syria will be discussed. The future of Syrian President Bashar Assad and a list of Syrian militant groups that can be considered moderate enough to be part of a UN-led peace negotiation are the biggest issues on the agenda at Saturday's meeting.

Western nations have been insisting that Assad has lost legitimacy in Syria, but lately agreed that he may play a part in a transition. The US has tried to train moderate militant groups hoping they would fight against terrorist groups such as IS and government forces, although so far the effort has proved fruitless.

READ MORE: Le Figaro poll: Over 70% want Syria’s Assad to remain in power

Russia and Iran have been supporting the Syrian government, saying it's the only regional force that has a chance to defeat the terrorists. Iran has been providing military advisers, while Russia has deployed warplanes and launched a bombing campaign to back the Syrian Army's operations against the jihadists.

The US-led coalition, which has been bombing IS positions in Iraq and Syria for over a year, is keeping its distance from both the Russian and Iranian effort.

Some opponents of Assad accused Russia of targeting moderate rebel forces instead of hardcore terrorists, but no proof of the allegations has been made public.

Iran's regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both allies of the US, have taken a more confrontational stance, insisting the Assad government must be ousted for any hope of peace in Syria.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is tasked with overseeing the political process, was cautious and said he didn’t expect a breakthrough ahead of the meeting.

"Breakthrough is a big word. What we are definitely looking for is to keep the momentum going," he told journalists.