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Kerry, diplomats agree to Syria transition plan

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By Devin Henry – 11/14/15 01:24 PM EST

Diplomats have agreed on a timeline for a political transition in Syria, though major sticking points remain on the right way to draw down the four-year-old conflict.
At a meeting in Vienna on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said leaders had agreed to set a Jan. 1 date for the beginning of talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad and opposition groups fighting against him, the Associated Press reports.
Within six months, those negotiators would be required to decide on a “credible, inclusive and nonsectarian” transitional government for the country.
That government would then draft a new constitution and an election, overseen by the United Nations, would take place within 18 months.
Important matters remain unresolved, however, including the role of Assad in the transitional government, which fighting forces in Syria would be considered terrorist organizations and who would be party to a cease-fire in the country.
Jordanian leaders will oversee deliberations on the latter issue, but the question of Assad is more complicated. The United States has insisted Assad be removed from power before the war can end, while Russia, Iran and others have said Syrians should have a say in who leads the country.
Even so, officials hailed Saturday’s agreement — reached by a group of 19 countries, including the U.S. and Russia — as an important step forward on the Syrian conflict.
Kerry tweeted that the attacks in Paris on Friday “stiffen resolve to work hard to fight terror.” In a statement, the UN said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “urges the participants in the talks in Vienna to move beyond their differences on Syria and take advantage of this rare moment of diplomatic opportunity to end the conflict and advance their search for a negotiated political solution.”
The Syrian war has killed more than 250,000 people, led to a major refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe and sparked the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks in Paris.

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