Middle East

U.S. Kerry says Russia talks made progress on Syria

Syrian rebels rush a wounded comrade to Bab al-Hawa hospital near Syria's rebel-controlled border with Turkey on July 1, 2013 after he was wounded by shrapnel when an angry mob from a refugee camp near the border crossing fired a gun at the ground. AFP PHOTO/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had made progress on plans to hold a Syria peace conference and that both sides had agreed it should be held soon.

In Moscow, deputies to Lavrov said the main hurdle to the conference was uncertainty over Syrian opposition participation, and that the United States must do more to get Assad's foes to the negotiating table.

"The main thing (that is needed) is readiness on the part of the opposition to take part in the conference. This is the main obstacle that does not allow us to set a date," said Deputy Foreign Minister and special Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov.

"We can again and again affirm that our U.S. partners need to be more energetic, with the faith that this (conference) is possible and neceessary, to work with the opposition," another deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told Reuters. "Any lack of confidence ... automatically reduces the chances."

Kerry and Lavrov announced plans for the peace conference in May, but no date has been set and battlefield gains by President Basher al-Assad's government have added to questions about when and even whether it will take place.

"There are still things that have to be worked out over the course of these next days, but Foreign Minister Lavrov and I felt that this meeting was a very useful meeting, it was constructive and productive," Kerry told reporters in Brunei, where he is attending an Asian regional security meeting.

"We narrowed down some of the options with respect to the potential of that conference. We both agreed that conference should happen sooner rather than later," he said, adding that the conference would likely take place after August.

The Obama administration decided last month to supply military aid to the rebels fighting Assad, while Moscow has continued to arm the government and reject calls to support Assad's exit.

The point of the peace conference is to revive a plan adopted at meeting on Syria last year in Geneva. At that time, Washington and Moscow agreed on the need for a transitional Syrian government, but left open the question of whether Assad could participate in the process.

The United States, like the Syrian rebels, says Assad and his family should play no role in a transitional government. Russia says there should be no conditions on the talks.

Washington has opposed including Iran in the talks amid continuing disagreement about its disputed nuclear programme, while Russia wants Tehran to take part.

While the United States and its European and Arab allies are seeking to pesuade rebels to attend the conference, Russia's role is to bring government officials to the table.

Kerry said that Russia and the United States were in agreement that no matter which side had the upper hand on the battleground, the peace conference would seek a transfer of power to an interim government.





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