US, Russia after Syria peace talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov take part in a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow yesterday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov take part in a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow yesterday.

MOSCOW/BEIRUT — Russia and the United States agreed to seek new peace talks with both sides to end Syria’s civil war, but opposition leaders were skeptical today of an initiative they fear might let President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power.

Visiting Moscow after Israel bombed targets near Damascus and as President Barack Obama faces renewed calls to arm the rebels, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had agreed to try to arrange a conference as early as this month.

An East-West disagreement that has seen some of the frostiest exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the Cold War has deadlocked UN efforts to settle the Syrian conflict for two years, so any rapprochement could bring an international common front closer than it has been for many months.

Israeli air strikes, reports of the use of chemical weapons and the increasing prominence of al Qaeda-linked militants among the rebels have all added to international urgency for an end to a war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

But with Syria’s factional and sectarian hatreds more entrenched than ever, it is far from clear the warring parties are ready to negotiate with each other. Most opposition figures have ruled out talks unless Assad and his inner circle are excluded from any future transitional government.

“No official position has been decided but I believe the opposition would find it impossible to hold talks over a government that still had Assad at its head,” said Samir Nashar, a member of the opposition’s umbrella National Coalition body.

“Before making any decisions we need to know what Assad’s role would be. That point has been left vague, we believe intentionally so, in order to try to drag the opposition into talks before a decision on that is made.” (Reuters)

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