New York: The United Nations Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing an international road map for a Syria peace process, a rare show of unity among major powers on a conflict that has claimed more than a quarter million lives.
The resolution gives a U.N. blessing to a plan negotiated previously in Vienna that calls for a ceasefire, talks between the Syrian government and opposition, and a roughly two-year timeline to create a unity government and hold elections.
But the obstacles to ending the nearly five-year civil war remain daunting, with no side in the conflict able to secure a clear military victory. Despite their agreement, the major powers are bitterly divided on who may represent the opposition as well as on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"This council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the 15-nation council after the vote.
The resolution also calls for the U.N. to present the council with options for monitoring a ceasefire within one month.
Talks between Syria`s government and opposition should begin in early January, the resolution said, though Kerry said mid-to-late January was more likely. It also endorsed the continued battle to defeat Islamic State militants who have seized large swaths of both Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
It was one of the strongest appeals for peace by the council, divided for years on the issue of Syria`s war, since Russia and China began vetoing a series of Western-drafted resolutions on the conflict in October 2011.
The resolution came after Moscow and Washington clinched a deal on a text. The two powers have had very different views on what should happen in Syria, where Islamic State militants control considerable territory that Western governments suspect has been a launch pad for attacks on Western nations and Russia.
Kerry made clear that there were still differences on the future of Assad, a close ally of Russia and Iran who Western countries want ousted, as well as on the question of which Syrian opposition groups will have a seat at the table in talks with the government.
"We are under no illusions about the obstacles that exist," Kerry said. "There obviously remain sharp differences within the international community, especially about the future of President Assad."
The resolution does not address Assad`s fate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of the resolution: "This is a clear response to attempts to impose a solution from the outside on Syrians on any issues, including those regarding its president."