Russia, US agree joint push for peace in Syria



MOSCOW, Stuart Williams and Jo Biddle- After months of sharp differences, the United States and Russia agreed Tuesday to push both sides in Syria to find an end to the bloodshed, offering to hold an international conference in search of peace.
In talks which stretched late into the night, US Secretary of State John Kerry met first for more than two hours with President Vladimir Putin and then for a further three with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.



Russia, US agree joint push for peace in Syria
"We agreed that Russia and the United States will encourage both the Syria government and opposition groups to find a political solution," Lavrov told reporters at a concluding news conference that ended after midnight.
Hopefully by the end of May the two ministers working together could convene an international conference to build on the Geneva accord agreed by world powers last June for a peaceful solution in Syria, they said.
The Geneva agreement, which was never implemented, set out a path toward a transitional government without ever spelling out the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
The six-point Geneva accord -- negotiated by the last UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan -- "should be the road map... by which the people of Syria can find their way to the new Syria and in which the bloodshed, the killing, the massacres can end," Kerry said.
"The alternative is that there's even more violence, the alternative is that Syria heads even closer to the abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos," Kerry warned, of a conflict which has already claimed over 70,000 lives.
And in what appeared to be a major concession to Russian concerns of instability in its Middle East ally, Kerry seemed to soften the US stand on Assad's future.
Washington has long insisted Assad must go.
But only the Syrian regime and the opposition could determine the make-up of a transitional government to shepherd the war-torn nation towards democratic elections, Kerry told reporters, wrapping up his first visit in office to Russia.
"It's impossible for me as an individual to understand how Syria could possibly be governed in the future by the man who has committed the things that we know have taken place," Kerry ventured.
"But I'm not going to decide that tonight, and I'm not going to decide that in the end."
Lavrov said both the United States and Russia were ready to use all their capacities to bring "the government and opposition to the negotiating table."
Lavrov, whose position on Syria long infuriated Kerry's predecessor Hillary Clinton, spent almost an hour talking with the US top diplomat for an intimate tete-a-tete, strolling in the gardens of the foreign ministry's guest house.
Putin did not specifically address the differences between Washington and Moscow over Syria, but said the Kremlin was preparing a response to a message on bilateral ties that President Barack Obama sent in April.
Kerry also sought to soothe Russian concerns as the US moves closer to arming the Syrian rebels, seeking to topple Assad.
Any such decision would be contingent on whether rebels have used chemical weapons as claimed, Kerry said, adding the US was investigating the allegations.
The visit coincides with the first anniversary of Putin's return to the Kremlin for a historic third term on May 7, 2012, which heralded a new chill in relations between Moscow and Washington.
Russia has long accused the West of worsening the Syria conflict by seeking to topple the Assad regime.
The US and other Western states have in turn accused Russia of failing to use its influence with the regime to halt the bloodshed and keeping up military deliveries to Assad.
There were a host of other issues on the agenda of the talks, including last month's Boston Marathon bombings blamed on two brothers of Chechen descent.
"I'm very happy that our professionals are working together now to work to deal with some of the issues of the bombing that took place in Boston," Kerry told Putin at their meeting.
More contentious dossiers including rows over a ban by Moscow on American adoptions of Russian children and the Russian authorities' harassment of NGOs were also raised.
But Kerry deliberately steered clear of criticising Moscow, saying even if the two countries had differences "the key is not to let them become so personalised or become so much of an impediment to our larger goal."
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Wednesday, May 8th 2013
Stuart Williams and Jo Biddle
           


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