Talks between opposition, Syrian regime set for January 22
The UN team charged with initiating direct negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the regime of Bashar al-Assad has set talks for 22 January 2016 according to an opposition source.
A Syrian opposition source told The New Arab that the talks are to be held in Geneva on 22 January to implement a UN Security Council resolution passed on Friday that unanimously backed the Vienna peace plan.
The peace plan agreed to last month by 20 nations meeting in Vienna sets a 1 January deadline for the start of negotiations between Assad's regime and opposition groups and a countrywide ceasefire.
The plan says nothing about Assad's future but says that "free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months".
International diplomats say the chances for ending the conflict between Assad's military and moderate rebel forces are better now than they've been for a long while.
On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed "the first resolution to focus on the political path to resolving the crisis. This marks a very important step".
Attention now turns to Moscow and Riyadh, as Russia pressures Assad's regime to agree to a ceasefire and Saudi Arabia wrangles the opposition to form a negotiating team.
The US and Arab allies remain convinced Assad must leave office as part of the process, but his ally Moscow insists this is a decision for the Syrian people.
More than 250,000 people have died since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011, and millions more have fled their homes.