Divided UN agrees first steps to resolve Syria war
The Security Council unanimously approved a statement regarding the crisis in Syria, which it is hoped will be the first step to bringing peace to the country.
All 15 countries of the Security Council backed the statement on Monday, which included intensive preliminary talks on key issues about Syria.
Russia, US, UK, France and China make up the permanent members of the Security Council, and have been divided on the issue of Syria.
The joint statement - the first to be made by the body for two years - is sign of possible change in the UN's approach to ending the conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people.
Before all 15 council members approved the text, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the presidential statement "would be the first exclusively political document on the Syrian crisis adopted by consensus."
The council's unity on a Syria political statement comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity to try to end the conflict, now in its fifth year, which has created the gravest humanitarian crisis in the world today.
Russia has been stalwart in its support for the Syrian regime while the US and European states have supported the opposition.
A nuclear deal between Iran – an active supporter of Damascus' war on the rebels - and six major powers appears to have opened the way for a series of diplomatic moves, which involved the UN, US, Russia and key Arab and European nations.
Commentators say that dialogue between the powers who are involved in the conflict, could be key to bringing peace to Syria.
The Security Council endorsed the recently announced plan by UN Syria envoy Steffan de Mistura aimed at setting the stage for new peace talks to end the civil war.
It includes talks on a political transition leading to democratic elections and ways to fight the emergence of extremist organisations such as the Islamic State group.
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Venezuela held up approval of the statement, which had been expected last week, over its references to a political transition.
The council statement demands that all parties in Syria "work urgently" toward fully implementing the roadmap to peace adopted by key nations in Geneva in June 2012.
The agreement calls for the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers "on the basis of mutual consent", and the roadmap would require Assad to relinquish power at some unspecified point.
Venezuela's UN Ambassador Rafael Ramirez Carreno told the council after the statement was read at an open meeting.
"[It violates] the sovereignty and self-determination of the Syrian people by promoting a political transition including the establishment of a transitional government without its consent and thus goes against the Charter of the United Nations".
However, Ramirez Carreno said Venezuela decided to act in a "constructive spirit in not preventing this document because we sincerely believe that we have to give peace a chance and that we have to give political solutions a chance".
France's deputy UN ambassador Alexis Lamek said what matters is that the Security Council has "regained unity" and adopted "a significant statement on the political process in Syria" by consensus. "I think that's a major achievement," he said.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said the UN hopes to get the four working groups operational in September.
The council statement condemns "the ongoing and multiple terrorist acts" in Syria by the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and "reaffirms its resolve to address all aspects of the threat".
It stresses that "the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people".
The statement reiterates the council's demands for all parties to stop attacks on civilians, including by shelling and dropping barrel bombs.
It also expressed "grave alarm" at the humanitarian crisis in Syria, which has forced 12 million people to flee their homes, including over 4 million who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.