The United Nations Monday invited Syria's government and opposition to meet early next year in an attempt to halt the nearly 3-year-old war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
However, the international body provided no answers of who will attend the "Geneva II" peace conference and other thorny issues.
The announcement comes the day after Tehran and world powers agreed to a six-month nuclear deal in Geneva, and as fierce fighting continued in Aleppo, Damascus and the Qalamoun region north of the capital.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both the government and opposition to help the Jan. 22 conference succeed by taking steps to stop the violence, provide access for desperately needed humanitarian aid, and help hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people return to their homes.
"We go with a clear understanding: The Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfills the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria," he told reporters at UN headquarters.
He said a key goal would be the establishment of a transitional government with powers over military and security matters. A full list of participants has not yet been decided on.
In Istanbul, a spokesman for Ahmad Jarba, who heads the so-called opposition Syrian National Coalition, revealed that several members of the group would meet Tuesday to discuss the composition of its delegation.
Moscow also underlined the importance of the talks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a 35-minute audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican during which both men discussed the urgent need "to promote concrete initiatives for a peaceful solution to the conflict, favoring negotiation," the Holy See said. They agreed any solution should involve "the various ethnic and religious groups, recognizing their essential role in society," it said in a statement.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a letter to Ban that ending support for the "armed terrorist groups" in Syria is "crucial for any political solution to the crisis to succeed and to give such a political process credibility in the eyes of the Syrian people." Contents of the letter were broadcast on Syrian TV Monday.
The international envoy to Syria, al-Akhdar Ibrahimi, said the US, Russia and the United Nations would meet on Dec. 20 to prepare for the conference, after setting the January date during a daylong meeting in Geneva.
"We are asking the [Syrian government and opposition] to name their delegations as early as possible, hopefully before the end of the year, because it's important that we meet them and speak to them, and listen to them," Ibrahimi said.
Asked if Iran and Saudi Arabia would participate, Ibrahimi replied, "We haven't established a list yet. These two countries will certainly be among the possible participants."
He added that Ban and the Arab League's chief have said several times they had wanted to invite Iran.
Two people close to the situation told the Associated Press that UN and Western officials have been training members of the Syrian opposition in negotiating skills the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue."
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team