The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution endorsing a plan for a peace process in Syria, calling for talks to begin in January and tasking the UN with aiding the implementation and monitoring of a nationwide ceasefire.
The resolution, which comes at a summit of 17 foreign ministers in New York, rubber-stamped a plan agreed on in Vienna last month that would lead to the establishment of a transitional government in Syria within six months and new elections within 18 months.
In the first-ever council resolution devoted to Syria's political transition, world powers called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to facilitate peace talks in early January and also to provide options for a ceasefire-monitoring mechanism within a month.
Echoing earlier resolutions focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the council also "demands that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects."
The resolution makes no mention of the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The issue remains a major sticking point, as Russia and Iran, al-Assad's main allies, refuse any agreement that would force him to step down, while the US and other countries backing the rebels want him out of power.
"There obviously remain sharp differences within the international community, especially about the future of President Assad," US Secretary of State John Kerry said after the resolution was passed.
"President Assad, in our judgement, and not everybody shares this, ... has lost the ability and the credibility to be able to unite the country."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the resolution underscored that the political transition needed to be led by Syrians, which is a "clear response to attempts to impose a solution from the outside ... on any issues, including those regarding its president."
Before the vote, US President Barack Obama said the resolution presents the international community with a chance "to find a political transition that maintains the Syrian state, that recognizes there are a bunch of stakeholders inside of Syria."
Such a political transition could lead to a ceasefire "that allows all parties to turn to our number-one focus, which is destroying Daesh [the Islamic State organization] and it's allies in the region," Obama said.
Meanwhile, al-Assad warned that the push to change the government in Syria will prolong the conflict.
"They want the solution, what they call a political solution, to be ended with the changing of this state, getting rid of this president or depose him, and so on. So, that's why it will drag on," al-Assad said in an interview Friday with Dutch television.
The Syrian opposition announced Friday the formation of a delegation to hold UN-sponsored negotiations with al-Assad's government, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Riad Hijab, coordinator of the opposition negotiation team, said the opposition is willing to cooperate with the international community to complete the transition, but with no role for al-Assad.
Opposition sources said the negotiating delegation will comprise of 15 members.
Hijab, an ex-Syrian prime minister, defected to the opposition in 2012.