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Syrian Opposition Groups Agree on Plan for Talks

  • Pamela Dockins
  • Mike Richman

A picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency shows members of the Syrian opposition during their meeting in Riyadh, Dec. 10, 2015.

A picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency shows members of the Syrian opposition during their meeting in Riyadh, Dec. 10, 2015.

Representatives of Syria’s opposition groups have agreed on a framework for talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

More than 100 representatives of Syria’s political and armed factions wrapped up an unprecedented meeting in Riyadh on Thursday with a plan to move forward on efforts to hold talks. The group still needs to pick its representatives for a negotiating team.

“We know there is still more difficult work to do and not every issue going forward has been resolved,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

FILE - Rebel fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham Movement take Islamic and Koran lessons inside a camp, during the holy month of Ramadan in Idlib countryside, Syria, July 7, 2015. The group pulled out of a meeting of opposition groups in Saudi Arabia, Dec. 10

FILE - Rebel fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham Movement take Islamic and Koran lessons inside a camp, during the holy month of Ramadan in Idlib countryside, Syria, July 7, 2015. The group pulled out of a meeting of opposition groups in Saudi Arabia, Dec. 10

The talks in Saudi Arabia resulted from a plan agreed to last month by 20 world powers meeting in Vienna. The so-called International Syria Support Group set a January deadline for the start of talks between the Assad government and moderate opposition groups as part of a broader plan for a political transition in Syria.

The Saudi Press Agency said the opposition groups “agreed that the aim of political settlement is to establish a state based on [the] principle of citizenship with no role of Bashar al-Assad in any political arrangements in the future.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the “positive outcome” of the Riyadh meeting.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, walks with White House senior adviser Brian Deese, left, to meet with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during the climate change conference at Le Bourget, France, Dec. 10, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, walks with White House senior adviser Brian Deese, left, to meet with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during the climate change conference at Le Bourget, France, Dec. 10, 2015.

“We appreciate that this extremely diverse group of Syrians put aside differences in the interest of building a new Syria,” Kerry said Thursday in a statement.

Earlier, reports indicated that one of Syria’s main rebel groups, the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist group, had pulled out of talks. However, Kirby said the group did participate in the negotiations.

Ministerial session

Earlier Thursday, on the sidelines of climate talks in Paris, Kerry said planning was underway for a possible ministerial meeting in New York next week. The meeting would serve as a follow-up to the Vienna talks.

He said officials needed to assess the results of the Saudi meeting before deciding.

The State Department said there was no initial confirmation on whether officials had decided to move forward with plans for the New York meeting.

In related news, diplomats from the United States, Russia and the United Nations plan to meet Friday in Geneva to discuss ways to advance the peace process in Syria. Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson will lead the U.S. delegation.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Russia's RIA news agency Moscow will use the meeting to call for an "intensification of joint efforts" against terrorism.

Participants attend a conference held by the Democratic Forces of Syria in Derek, Syria, Dec. 8, 2015. The text on the banner reads in Arabic, "Democratic Syria conference for Opposition forces, towards building a free democratic Syria."

Participants attend a conference held by the Democratic Forces of Syria in Derek, Syria, Dec. 8, 2015. The text on the banner reads in Arabic, "Democratic Syria conference for Opposition forces, towards building a free democratic Syria."

The U.S. and Russia have struggled to find common ground as they carry out separate military campaigns in Syria, where a civil war has killed more than 250,000 people.

Most U.S. airstrikes have targeted the Islamic State extremist group, while Russia's warplanes have mostly hit other Syrian rebel groups, including some backed by the West.

The talks in Geneva will focus on efforts to forge a political transition and on the "framework and the architecture for a cease-fire," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

The U.N. special peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will take part in the so-called "Geneva process," agreed to last month, which aims to host a meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria's fragmented opposition by early January.

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