Little progress at US, Russia, Saudi, Turkey, Syria talks

Top diplomats from Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to make any major breakthrough on how to end the Syrian conflict.

AFP| Updated: Oct 24, 2015, 00:23 AM IST

Vienna: Top diplomats from Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey today failed to make any major breakthrough on how to end the Syrian conflict, with the sides sharply at odds on the future of Bashar al-Assad.

But Moscow did seem to make progress with getting some more regional players on side, announcing with Jordan that the two countries would begin to "coordinate" their air operations over Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, said he hoped to reconvene another, "broader" meeting on Syria as early as October 30.

The crunch talks at a Vienna hotel brought together Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with their Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir and Turkey's Feridun Sinirlioglu.

The foreign ministers met three weeks after Moscow thrust itself into the heart of the crisis by launching a bombing campaign in support of Assad that has drawn sharp condemnation from the west.

Washington, Riyadh and Ankara -- which all back groups fighting Assad -- were sounding out Lavrov after the embattled Syrian strongman made a surprise visit to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin this week.

But the atmosphere appeared frosty, and there was scant progress on resolving almost five years of war with the sides at loggerheads over the future of Assad.

"What we agreed to do today is to consult with all parties and aim to reconvene, hopefully as early as next Friday with a broader meeting in order to explore whether there is sufficient common ground to advance a meaningful political process," Kerry told journalists after the meeting.

Lavrov said Moscow wanted the negotiating group to be expanded to include key international and regional players including crucially Iran -- which is also backing Assad's forces on the ground.

But Kerry rejected the suggestion of involving Tehran for now.

"For the moment Iran is not at the table. And there will come a time perhaps where we will talk to Iran but we are not at the moment at this point of time," he said.

Another bone of contention appeared to be the fate of Assad, with Kerry insisting "dozens of countries, if not hundred, understand that Assad creates an impossible dynamic for peace".

Lavrov, however, struck out at the "fixation" with Assad among the other participants and said "the fate of the president of Syria must be decided by the Syrian people".