Paris Attack Spurs Search for Unity in Syrian Peace Talks

  • Diplomats gather in Vienna in search of plan to end violence
  • EU calls for unity; China and Germany offer humanitarian aid

Diplomats attending Syria peace talks called for unity following deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and said they’re looking for tangible steps to quell violence in the Middle East nation.

Top diplomats from 17 nations convened Saturday morning at a luxury hotel in Vienna to resume negotiations on Syria. After attacks killed 127 people Friday night in Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters that diplomats would use the meeting to “strengthen the international fight” against terrorism.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the entire international community is affected by terrorism. “The best response to this is coming together, overcoming our differences and trying together to lead the way toward peace in Syria,” she said as she arrived for the talks.

Shortly after the talks began, Islamic State, the terrorist group that has spread across Syria and Iraq, claimed credit for the Paris attacks in a statement posted on Twitter. A Syrian passport was found on the body of one of the attackers, according to reports.

The connection between the Paris assault and the Syrian war is likely to add urgency to the meetings in Vienna. Diplomats had previously warned against counting on a quick solution to the Syrian conflict. The foreign ministers are meeting ahead of a Group of 20 summit of world leaders starting in the Turkish coastal resort of Antalya Sunday that will discuss the war across the border in Syria.

‘Stiffen Resolve’

“The one thing we can say to those people is that what they do in this is stiffen our resolve – all of us – to fight back, to hold people accountable, and to stand up for rule of law,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. “They have encouraged us today to do even harder work to make progress and to help resolve the crises that we face.”

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said the Vienna meetings should “galvanize support and turn consensus into action.” China’s proposing a four-step plan that starts with a “full cease-fire” and political-transition plan for Syria, he said, adding that greater international unity is needed to fight terrorism.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier underscored the importance of temporarily suspending fighting in Syria so that humanitarian aid can be delivered.

Humanitarian Aid

“That will now be the focus of discussions, as is the question of how we provide greater access for humanitarian aid to Syria,” Steinmeier said. “I hope that we have at the end of the day set up a process in which we -- with different emphases in different work units -- deal with the issues of a transition process, organizing a cease-fire, initially by defusing the hostilities, and for humanitarian aid.”

Syria’s civil war has so far cost about 250,000 lives, sent millions fleeing the conflict zone and resulted in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Russia and Iran have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while most other governments seek new leadership for the country.

French President Francois Hollande called the Paris attacks an “act of war” committed “by a terrorist army” in a televised address Saturday morning. The coordinated assault targeted cafes, a soccer match and concert hall.

“There will be no justification for us not doing much more to defeat ISIL, al-Nusrah, and the like,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “There will be no tolerance vis-a-vis terrorists.”

Going into the weekend’s negotiations, Russia, which has sided with Assad, was seeking United Nations backing for a wide coalition to carry out air-strikes against Islamic State, according to a draft proposal obtained by Bloomberg. The plan had been expected to be opposed by the U.S. and its allies, who say the Russian intervention is geared more toward propping up Assad than defeating the jihadists.

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