UN Security Council agrees on Syria draft resolution
UN Security Council members have agreed on a draft resolution on a peace process for Syria involving talks by representatives of the Damascus government and the opposition.
However, the draft does not mention the critical issue of what role President Bashar Assad will play.
Diplomats had rushed to overcome divisions while world powers held the latest talks on how to bring an end to the conflict, which is deep into its fifth year with well over 300,000 killed.
The draft resolution has been described as a rare gesture of unity on the Syria peace process by a council often deeply divided on the crisis.
The US and French ambassadors to the UN both expressed optimism ahead of the Security Council meeting.
The draft resolution requests that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon convene representatives of the Syrian government and opposition "to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks".
Within six months, the process should establish "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance," with UN-supervised "free and fair elections" to be held within 18 months.
The draft calls the transition Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, stressing that the "Syrian people will decide the future of Syria".
It also says ceasefire efforts should move forward in parallel with the talks, and it asks Mr Ban to report within a month of the resolution's adoption on a way to monitor the ceasefire.
The draft notes that the ceasefire "will not apply to offensive or defensive actions" against groups considered terrorist organisations, meaning that air strikes by Russia, France and the US-led coalition apparently would not be affected.
Meanwhile, some 20 foreign ministers tackled those and other difficult issues for a possible end to Syria's civil war, including sorting out which Syrian groups will represent the opposition in peace talks in the new year.
Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh said he presented lists submitted from each country of groups they consider terrorist organisations. He said some countries "sent 10, 15, 20 names" and others more.
"Now I think there will be follow-up steps in terms of countries meeting again to set criteria which will help filter the list," said Mr Judeh, whose country is tasked with putting the final list together.
Others around the table included the United States, key European nations, Saudi Arabia and top Syria allies Russia and Iran.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said the two most important issues are launching political negotiations among Syrian parties and implementing a UN-monitored ceasefire.
"Without peace talks, the ceasefire cannot be sustained. Without a ceasefire, peace talks cannot continue to produce results," he said.
Mr Wang noted the "severe threat posed by international terrorism", a reference to Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos to seize large parts of Syria.
A peace plan agreed to last month by 20 nations meeting in Vienna sets a January 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between Mr Assad's government and opposition groups.
That deadline is "too ambitious a timetable", the UN representative for the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, told reporters on Friday.
Najib Ghadbian estimated that a month of preparation is needed.
He also said a comprehensive solution to the conflict requires "the removal of all foreign troops from Syria, all of them," including Russia, which began airstrikes there in September.
The strikes are focused on more moderate forces fighting Mr Assad in areas where Islamic State has little or no presence.
The co-ordinator of the opposition team that will negotiate with the Syrian government, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, said that Mr Assad should have no role during a transitional period.
He also called for "confidence-building measures" such as the lifting of a siege imposed on rebel-held areas and a halt to air strikes.