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Next Syria Talks Set This Month in New York, Kerry Says

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, pictured at a State Department briefing in Washington, Nov. 18, 2015, says resolving political concerns related to the Syrian conflict would help facilitate the fight against Islamic State.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that the next round of talks on Syria's political future would be held this month in New York.

He made the remark at the Saban Forum, a conference on Middle East policy, at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

The United States is aiming to "facilitate a transition that all parties have stated that they support — a unified Syria, a nonsectarian Syria, a Syria which will choose its own leadership in the future by an election that they have all agreed will be supervised by the United Nations under the highest standards of international law," Kerry said. The elections will be held with "full transparency and accountability," he said, "in order for even the diaspora to be able to vote for a future leadership."

Kerry said resolving political concerns related to the Syrian conflict would help facilitate the fight against Islamic State, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq.

At the previous round of Syria talks in Vienna last month, representatives of world powers, including the U.S., Russia, Iran and the United Nations, laid out a broad plan for a political transition in Syria, as well as a process aimed at leading to an agreement on which elements of the Syrian opposition are terrorists.

The plan called for bringing Syrian government and opposition groups into U.N.-mediated talks by January 1. The world powers also voiced support for establishing a credible, inclusive government in Syria within six months and free and fair elections within 18 months.

On Friday, Kerry said it might be possible to get Syria's government and rebel forces to cooperate against Islamic State militants, even before an agreement is reached on when or how President Bashar al-Assad will relinquish power in the war-torn nation.

Kerry, however, said all sides in the Syrian civil war would cooperate in the fight against IS only if they were confident that a mutually acceptable solution regarding the Syrian leader's future was in sight. Otherwise, he said, it would be "extremely difficult" to secure such cooperation.

Top State Department officials said Kerry's comments did not mark a shift in U.S. policy. U.S. officials have long insisted that Assad must step down for there to be any chance for a political resolution in Syria.