World leaders have unanimously voted to try to end the civil war in Syria, setting out an early-January timetable for peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces.
In a meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York Friday, foreign ministers and others endorsed a "road map for a peace process" that specified “the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria."
Leaders also voted for a nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as a political transition was agreed upon. The agreement also called for "free and fair" elections to be held within 18 months.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the agreement would be the first to focus on a political path to resolving the crisis in Syria. “This marks a very important step on which we must build,” he said.
Ban said the agreement dealt with two key requests by the parties involved: to convene formal Syrian-led negotiations in January between the government and opposition forces and to determine the requirements of a nationwide ceasefire. “The United Nations stands ready to undertake these important tasks," he added.
Groups who have been labelled terrorist organizations, including Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, are excluded from the discussions. U.S.-led air strikes against the groups will continue during the peace process.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the resolution sent a clear message that now was the time to stop the killing in Syria. "The process must be implemented by Syrians and could not be imposed from outside," he said.
While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be involved in the transition, Western and Arab nations have insisted he must be gone by the end of the process. "The Syrian leader had lost the ability and credibility to unite his country," Kerry said.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond echoed Kerry's concerns, stating the process must involve the departure of President Assad. Ministers for France and Lithuania also said Assad "could not be seen as part of the solution to the crisis."
The agreement also demands all parties involved in the violence in Syria cease attacks against civilians.
The Syrian war, which is heading into its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions more, according to the U.N.
The peace talks will be held at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva early next year, a UN spokesman has said.
"The talks will take place in Geneva, but we don't have the exact date," UN spokesman Rheal LeBlanc told AFP.
Various parties involved in the peace effort have said that the talks are likely to begin in January.
Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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