Russia: 'There is an agreement' on UN draft on Syria

By Associated Press EDITH M. LEDERER ,

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China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, shakes hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon before their meeting at the United Nations, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, shakes hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon before their meeting at the United Nations, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (Photo: Richard Drew)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia's deputy foreign minister says Security Council members have reached agreement on a resolution they plan to adopt Friday endorsing the way forward on a possible end to Syria's civil war.

"There is an agreement," Gennady Gatilov told reporters.

Diplomats had rushed to overcome divisions on the draft resolution while world powers held the latest talks on how to bring an end to the conflict.

The resolution would be a rare gesture of unity on the Syria peace process by a council often deeply divided on the crisis.

The U.S. and French ambassadors both are expressing optimism as well.

Some 20 foreign ministers Friday were tackling the most 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. 

Diplomats had been divided over a resolution that the U.N. Security Council was expected to adopt just after the talks endorsing the process. Syria's main opposition group said a Jan. 1 deadline for starting peace talks was "too ambitious."

And the role of Syrian President Bashar Assad in a political transition was the most challenging issue of all.

Jordan presented countries' lists of groups that should be considered terrorist organizations instead.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said he presented lists submitted from each country of groups they consider terrorist organizations. 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 Judeh, whose country is tasked with putting the final list together.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the two most important issues are launching political negotiations and implementing a U.N.-monitored cease-fire. "Without peace talks, the cease-fire cannot be sustained. Without a cease-fire, peace talks cannot continue to produce results," he said.

"We must realize the political process is going to go backward if we are not making progress," Wang said. He noted the "severe threat posed by international terrorism," a reference to ISIS, 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 Jan. 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between Assad's government and opposition groups. 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."

The Jan. 1 deadline is "too ambitious a timetable," the U.N. representative for the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, told reporters Friday morning. Najib Ghadbian estimated that a month of preparation is needed.

Ghadbian 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 Assad in areas where ISIS has little or no presence.

"For us, the utmost priority is to stop the killing. Then we can make headway with a cease-fire and political transition," Ghadbian said.

The coordinator of the opposition team that will negotiate with the Syrian government, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, said in Saudi Arabia on Friday that 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 airstrikes.

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