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Vatican City (AFP) – The Vatican urged an unconditional ceasefire in Syria and the involvement of all regional players including Iran in peace talks next week, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Holy See on Tuesday.

Kerry spoke to the Vatican’s right-hand man, Pietro Parolin, chiefly about Syria and preparations for the Geneva II talks due to start on January 22, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters.

“The Holy Father’s stance on peace was reiterated,” he said, adding that Kerry and Parolin also discussed the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and efforts to restore stability in South Sudan.

A statement following a workshop on Syria in the Vatican on Monday said the recent interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program could have a positive effect for the Geneva II talks.

“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.

AFP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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