Vatican calls for unconditional Syria ceasefire
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican called for an unconditional ceasefire in Syria and the involvement of all regional players including Iran in peace talks next week, ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday.
Following a workshop on the conflict on Monday, the Vatican said the recent interim deal over Iran's nuclear programme could have a positive effect for the Geneva II talks due to start on January 22.
"To build the basis for regional peace, Geneva II needs to ensure inclusive participation of all parties to this conflict, within the region and beyond," it said.
The deal with Iran creates "a vital foundation for a lasting peace in Syria" and "gives the world great hope that an extended period of grave distrust between Iran and other nations in the region and beyond might now be followed by a new era of trust and even cooperation".
Russia, the chief ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, is keen to see Iran at the table for the Geneva II talks, but the United States has said Tehran should first back an accord setting a path to a transitional government in Syria.
"The first and most urgent step... should be an immediate ceasefire and end to violence of all kinds, an end without political preconditions," the Vatican said, echoing a joint call by Moscow and Washington on Monday for local ceasefires and humanitarian corridors.
"All internal combatants should put down their weapons. All foreign powers should take immediate steps to stop the flow of arms and arms funding that feed the escalation of violence and destruction," it said.
The Vatican said it was ready to support reconciliation between all religious communities in Syria and urged reconstruction work to begin as soon as a ceasefire is agreed, even before a final peace agreement.
The closed-door Vatican workshop brought together top Catholic leaders, academics and diplomats and is the latest in a series of peace initiatives by Pope Francis including a day of fasting and prayer in September 2013.