US, Russia to work together to end civil war

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi listen to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in GenevaGENEVA — Russia and the United States agreed today to push again for an international conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war as talks on removing chemical weapons raised hopes for broader negotiations.

After a further meeting in Geneva to discuss Moscow’s plan for securing poison gas stocks in order to avert US air strikes, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry said they would work together to end a conflict that has divided the Middle East and the world’s major powers.

They would meet again in about two weeks, around September 28 during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and hoped progress in Geneva in the coming day on a chemical weapons disarmament deal would help set a date for a peace conference.

“We are committed to trying to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world,” Kerry told a joint news briefing.

Washington and Moscow still had work to do find common ground, Kerry said of a dispute that has raised echoes of the Cold War and to reach an agreement on scheduling peace talks.

“Much … will depend on the capacity to have success here in the next hours, days, on the subject of the chemical weapons,” the secretary of state added.

Lavrov said work on a chemical weapons deal would go on in parallel with preparatory work for a Geneva peace conference.

Russia has resisted calls from Syrian rebels and Western leaders for President Bashar al-Assad to make way for an interim transitional government. Assad’s disparate opponents and their foreign allies say they see no place for Assad after the war.

Kerry cautioned after meeting Lavrov yesterday that the United States could still carry out a threat to attack Assad in retaliation for a poison gas attack last month if Washington was not satisfied with Syria’s response.

UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who also represents the Arab League, met Kerry and Lavrov together today. He said working to remove chemical weapons from Syria would form an important element in efforts to hold new peace talks, following an earlier failed attempt at Geneva last year.

As the diplomacy continued in Switzerland, Assad’s forces were on the offensive against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, opposition activists and residents said. Warplanes and artillery were bombing and shelling, notably in the Barzeh neighbourhood, where activists said there were also clashes on the ground. (Reuters)

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