Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Kerry seeks Syria progress in Moscow

DIVISIVE:The US needs to rethink its policy of ‘dividing terrorists into good and bad ones,’ the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement before Kerry arrived

Reuters, MOSCOW

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he wanted to use a visit to Moscow yesterday to make “real progress” in narrowing differences with Russian President Vladimir Putin over how to end the conflict in Syria.

Kerry is seeking to prepare the ground for a third round of talks between world powers on Syria but it was not clear if a meeting penciled in for Friday in New York would go ahead.

Russia and the US have not reached an agreement over the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in any political transition or over which rebel groups should be part of talks.

“I look forward to making real progress,” Kerry said at the start of talks with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. “I think the world benefits when powerful nations with a long history with each other have the ability to be able to find common ground.”

Kerry was scheduled to meet Putin yesterday, told Lavrov: “Even when there have been differences between us we have been able to work effectively on specific issues.”

Russia, one of al-Assad’s staunchest allies, has launched a campaign of airstrikes that it said targeted Islamic State group militants but which also supported al-Assad’s forces.

Syrians and not external powers should decide al-Assad’s political fate, the Kremlin said.

Lavrov told Kerry there was a need for more effective international cooperation in fighting terror.

“On that route there are still questions which today we need to look at,” Lavrov said in his opening remarks.

The run-up to the Moscow talks underlined the distance between Moscow and Washington on how to deal with the Syria crisis.

Speaking before Kerry’s arrival, a US Department of State official said Kerry would raise concerns about Russia’s continued bombing of Syrian opposition forces, including some backed by Washington and its allies.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement complaining that Washington was not ready to fully cooperate in the struggle against the Islamic State group and needed to rethink its policy of “dividing terrorists into good and bad ones.”

Kerry’s visit follows a meeting last week in Riyadh which agreed to unite a number of opposition groups, not including the Islamic State group, to negotiate with Damascus in peace talks.

While Kerry said there were still “kinks” that needed to be worked out, mainly to do with which groups should be included in the talks, the Kremlin rejected the results of the Riyadh meeting, saying some of the groups were considered terrorists.

“We don’t have a full meeting of the minds yet [on al-Assad],” a senior state department official told reporters. “We will talk about some of the details of a transition... in the hopes of narrowing the differences between us.”

Kerry’s talks in Moscow are to delve deeper into the details of a planned Jan. 1 ceasefire in Syria, as well as Monday’s comments by Russia on supporting the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting Russian and Iranian-backed government forces.

“We’ll be interested to hear what the Russians have in mind there, given the Free Syrian Army’s concern about how al-Assad has been treating his own people,” the official said.

Russia has given mixed messages on the Free Syrian Army.

News agencies on Monday quoted Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov as saying his country was providing it with weapons, ammunition and material support, while a top Kremlin aide later said there was no such arrangement.

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