The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by the United States and Russia that endorses an international roadmap for a Syrian peace process.
A resolution's text was hammered out at a New York hotel during a December 18 meeting of 20 foreign ministers that was convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.
The resolution calls on the United Nations to bring together representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and moderate opposition groups that have been fighting Assad's regime for nearly five years.
It suggests the peace talks could start as soon as January.
"This council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support," said Kerry.
"We now have an opportunity, not to turn back the clock -- it's going to be very difficult to completely overcome the devastation that’s happened in Syria already – but to find a political transition that maintains the Syrian state," said President Barack Obama, shortly before the UN vote at his end-of-the-year news conference.
The resolution, he said, "hopefully [will] initiate a cease-fire that won’t be perfect but allows all the parties to turn on what should be our number-one focus, and that is destroying Daesh [Islamic State] and its allies in the region."
Lavrov said the resolution was designed so that "Syria should remain a united, secular, multiconfessional, and multiethnic state, comfortable and safe for all groups that make up its population."
The resolution makes no mention of Assad's future -- with Russia and the West remaining divided in talks of a political transition about the fate of the Syrian president.
Moscow and Iran support Assad, while key backers of the Syrian opposition -- including the United States, European nations, and Saudi Arabia -- insist he must leave power.
Obama reiterated Washington’s position that as long as Assad is president, Syria cannot be stable.
He stressed that there must be a conclusion to the civil war in Syria so that Islamic State militants don’t have a safe haven.
France, which has been a fierce opponent of Assad, remained emphatic about Assad's removal.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the talks between the Syrian government and opposition would only succeed if there were credible guarantees on Assad's departure.
"How could this man unite a people that he has in part massacred? The idea that he could once again stand for elections is unacceptable to us."
The drafting by Russia and the United States of the UN Security Council resolution follows a December 15 visit to Moscow by Kerry in which he met with Lavrov and with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kerry said after those talks with Putin that the United States is ready to work with Russia to destroy the Islamic State group.
He said he and Putin reached "common ground" on which Syrian opposition groups would be invited to participate in the Syrian peace talks in New York.
Kerry said neither IS militants nor the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front would be involved.
Kerry also said he and Putin discussed an exchange of information on the location of antiterrorist operations in Syria.
With reporting by Carl Schreck in Washington, AP, Reuters, AFP, and The New York Times