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‘Last Hope’ Syria Peace Talks End First Day In Vienna

"The meeting was good," the head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Ja'afarii (center), said in Vienna on January 25.

Negotiators met in Vienna on January 25 for the first of two days of UN-sponsored talks aimed at finding a political solution to Syria’s nearly seven-year war.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, first met with Syrian officials and then separately with the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) for talks focusing on constitutional issues after the eighth round of talks held in Geneva last month ended without progress.

"The meeting was good," the head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Ja'afari, was quoted by Reuters as saying as he left the UN offices in Vienna after the talks. He declined to elaborate.

The UN envoy has placed most of the blame for failure on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which he said demanded that opposition groups accept the possibility of a role for Assad during a political transition in the country.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the Vienna meetings as the "last hope" for reaching a political solution in Syria, where violence continues to rage in a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since it began with a crackdown on protests in 2011.

Turkey is pushing ahead with a cross-border military operation against the Kurdish-run Afrin enclave in northern Syria, while Russian-backed Syrian troops are pressing their offensives against rebel-held strongholds in the northwest region of Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

Other Talks In Russia

The Vienna talks also come as Russia is planning to host a Syrian "congress of national dialogue" in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on January 29-30.

Russia, which has received backing from Turkey and Iran for holding the gathering, is accused of seeking to bypass the UN-backed peace process.

"The United Nations has to be put back in the middle of the game. There is no question of letting the Geneva process be hijacked, diverted or bypassed," the AFP news agency quoted a French diplomatic source as saying.

Moscow says the goal of the Sochi talks was to "efficiently" sustain the UN-sponsored talks with concrete "results."

Russia, Iran, and Turkey have been sponsoring parallel peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, that led to the establishment of four "de-escalation zones" in Syria last year.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the war, while Turkey and the United States support different rebel groups.

Islamic State fighters entered the war when it captured wide swathes of Syrian territory in 2014, but have lost most of their gains in the face of attacks by government forces and U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish fighters.

With reporting by AFP and dpa