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Kerry says Syria could be 'weeks away' from transition

Dominique Faget, AFP | French President François Hollande (pictured left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose ahead of talks at the Elysée palace in Paris on November 17, 2015

A ceasefire between Syria’s government and the opposition could be just weeks away from reality, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday following talks with French President François Hollande in Paris.

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Kerry arrived in France on Monday evening, where he paid tribute the victims of last week’s Paris attacks, which claimed the lives of at least 129 and left more than 350 injured.

Speaking to reporters at the residence of the US ambassador to France on Tuesday, Kerry said the ceasefire envisioned by the political process agreed upon in Vienna on Saturday would exponentially help efforts to fight the Islamic State (IS) group – which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks – as well as end the Syrian crisis.

“That’s a gigantic step,” Kerry said. “If we can get that done, that opens up the aperture for a whole bunch of things. We’re weeks away conceivably from the possibility of a big transition for Syria, and I don’t think enough people necessarily notice that. But that’s the reality.”

“We are not talking about months, we are talking about weeks hopefully,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is expected to host a meeting by mid-December of Syrian opposition figures, who will be tasked with forming a delegation to hold talks with representatives from President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Once those negotiations begin, a ceasefire is to take effect, according to the agreement reached in Vienna.

Such a ceasefire would free nations supporting Syria’s various factions to concentrate more on the IS group.

“Out of this event in Paris will come an even greater level of vigilance and cooperation in some places that may have been a little bit less concerned about things hitting them in certain parts of the world,” Kerry said.

The secretary of state’s comments followed meetings with Hollande and staffers at the US Embassy in Paris earlier in the day.

‘Step up efforts’

With Hollande, Kerry said the civilised world must boost its efforts to combat the IS group by going after the group at its core. He said the recent downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt, along with recent attacks in Lebanon and Turkey made it clear that more pressure must be brought to bear on the Islamic extremists.

“My sense is everybody understands that with Lebanon’s attacks, with what’s happened in Egypt, with Ankara, Turkey and attacks in Paris, we have to step up our efforts to hit them at the core where they’re planning these things and also obviously to do more on borders in terms the movement of people,” he said.

Hollande plans to travel to Washington D.C. on November 24 to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss further cooperation on fighting extremism and dealing with Syria.

Before seeing Hollande, Kerry met with diplomats from the US Embassy in Paris to thank them for their service.

He told embassy staffers that the bonds between the United States and France are stronger than ever and that Friday’s attacks were an assault on civilisation and common decency.

“This is just raw terror,” he said, vowing that the campaign against the IS group will succeed. “We will end the scourge of Daesh,” he said, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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