Top officials of the U.S. and Russia met several senior world and regional envoys in Vienna on Tuesday to bolster the currently battered ceasefire deal in Syria even as violence increased in the civil war torn country. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chaired the 17-nation meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).
At the meeting, efforts were expected to be made to renew cessation of hostilities in Syria, restart peace talks and accelerate delivery of humanitarian aid, according to the Guardian. The 17-member group includes the U.K., France, EU, the Arab League, Iran — an ally of Syrian President Bashar al Assad — and Turkey and Saudi Arabia — both trying to topple Assad's regime.
The group was also entrusted with the responsibility of forming a "framework for political transition," which is expected to be a difficult process as Assad insists on wresting control of the country from rebel groups. The rebel groups, Agence France Presse quoted U.S. officials as saying, have been more open to talks for peace. However, Kerry was in Jeddah over the weekend to ensure that Saudi-backed rebels don't walk out of the negotiation talks, the Guardian reported.
Assad, despite showing that he was in favour of the peace talks, has not taken any concrete steps towards it, the U.S. officials said. They opined that Assad should resign, according to AFP news agency.
"The target for August is to have a framework in place, a framework agreed, for a political transition," a senior U.S. State Department official was quoted as saying by AFP. "We're talking to the Russians, trying to get a better environment for the political negotiations," he said. "Particularly on the regime side."
Lavrov on Monday reportedly said: "Today we're a long way from the finish line. But if everything decided under the auspices of the ISSG and the UN Security Council is put in place honestly, then there's every chance the situation won't stay as it is."
A ceasefire was agreed upon with great difficulty in February. However, violence has increased recently with Syrian Army and rebel groups fighting over territory. Major air strikes in Aleppo by either U.S. or Russia coalition led to civilian casualty, forcing UN envoy Staffan de Mistura urging the two countries to hasten the peace talks.