The US and the UK have hailed the UN plan to end the war in Syria that has left at least 350,000 dead and millions displaced.
The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution which draws an international roadmap for a political transition starting with a ceasefire beginning in January.
However, the adopted resolution said that air strikes against the DAESH terrorist group in the country would not be affected by the ceasefire.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called the step a “milestone” that gave the people of Syria a "real choice... between war and peace."
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the plan a “great step forward.”
“Syria has for too long been the world’s biggest humanitarian and security crisis,” Hammond said in a statement on Saturday.
“The international community has now come together to work to end the bloody civil war in Syria and has paved the way for talks amongst the Syrian parties that will see a transition away from the murderous regime of [Bashar] Assad,” he added.
“This resolution gives us a timetable and a clear way forward. Of course there are many challenges ahead but the world has taken a great step forward to resolving the Syrian crisis.”
— United Nations (@UN) December 18, 2015
Despite the plan being backed by all five permanent members of the council, including China and Russia, who have supported the Assad regime through the war which began in March 2011, Kerry said that there were still “sharp differences” over Assad’s fate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the resolution was "a clear response to attempts to impose a solution from the outside on Syrians on any issues, including those regarding its president."
Russia has been conducting air strikes in Syria since Sept. 30 in support of the embattled Assad regime, primarily concentrating its operations on territories held by Syrian opposition forces in the Latakia, Aleppo, Idlib and Homs provinces.
Concerns have been raised that the air strikes have been targeting moderate groups backed by the US and its allies in the region, but Russia has insisted its campaign only targets “terrorists,” a term they use to refer to all armed opposition groups.
Notably, Syria’s top opposition body, the Turkey-based Syrian National coalition (SNC), did not take part in the peace talks which were held in New York on Friday.
The talks came after a meeting including representatives of 20 nations were held last month in Vienna, in which a Jan. 1 deadline was set to start negotiations between the Assad regime and opposition groups.
Although the plan did not clearly outline Assad’s future, it stated that “free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months.”
While most Syrian opposition groups as well as several EU and Gulf Arab countries do not see Assad as a part of Syria’s political future, Assad’s main backers Russia and Iran insist that he should stay throughout the transition.
In talks hosted by Saudi Arabia earlier this month, 100 representatives of armed opposition groups agreed that Assad should step down before the transition phase begins and that a Syria post-Assad should be an all-inclusive democracy.
However, Assad said in an interview with Spanish media that he would not negotiate with armed opposition groups.
Assad also told Russian lawmakers during a meeting in Damascus in October that he is willing to run for another seven-year term in office.
In total, the war in Syria has so far claimed the lives of over 250,000 people according to UN estimates, while the SOHR says that the true death toll exceeds 350,000.