Proposed UN statement backs preparatory talks on key issues to restore peace to Syria

A draft U.N. Security Council statement that could be adopted this week strongly backs intensive preparatory talks on key issues to restore peace to conflict-torn Syria, including a political transition and fighting terrorism.

U.N. diplomats said a deadline of noon Wednesday EDT (1600 GMT) has been set for council members to raise objections to the proposed presidential statement, which was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. If there are none, it could be adopted Wednesday afternoon, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters last Friday there was "a high possibility" that the deeply divided council would endorse the recently announced plan by U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura aimed at setting the stage for new peace talks to end the Syrian war.

"It would be the first exclusively political document on the Syrian crisis adopted by consensus," Churkin said.

De Mistura's plan and the possible Security Council statement come at a time of increasing diplomatic activity aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, which has killed at least 250,000 people and sparked the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today.

The nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers appears to have opened the way for a series of diplomatic moves on Syria including recent talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Tuesday's meeting in Moscow between Lavrov and the Saudi foreign minister.

But key differences remain — especially over Syrian President Bashar Assad who shows no sign of wanting to step aside.

The draft Security Council statement demands that all parties in Syria "work urgently" toward fully implementing the roadmap to peace adopted by key nations in Geneva in June 2012 which calls for the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers "on the basis of mutual consent." The roadmap ends with elections and would require Assad, whose government is backed by Russia and Iran, to relinquish power at some unspecified point.

Lavrov strongly warned Tuesday against trying to unseat Assad, but that remains the goal of Syrian rebels as well as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and key Western nations.

The draft council statement supports de Mistura's approach and urges all parties "to engage in good faith" with him.

The U.N. envoy plans to hold simultaneous discussions among the Syrian parties on key aspects of the 2012 Geneva roadmap. The four "working groups" he called for will tackle safety and protection of civilians including medical access and the release of detainees; political and constitutional issues; combatting terrorism and military and security issues; and reconstruction and development.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said the U.N. hopes to get the four working groups operational in September.

The draft statement stresses that "the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."

It reiterates the council's demands for all parties to stop attacks on civilians, including by shelling and dropping barrel bombs, and expresses "grave alarm" at the humanitarian crisis which has forced 12 million people to flee their homes, including over 4 million who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.