Hold Syrian talks soon: UN, Russia

Hold Syrian talks soon: UN, Russia

Hold Syrian talks soon: UN, Russia

‘The sooner the Syria conference is held, the better,’ Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says. AP photo

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Russia agreed May 17 that a peace conference on Syria should be held “as soon as possible” a day after Russian foreign minister said Iran must take part in proposed Syria talks.

Ban met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin about an impending international meeting on Syria that should include representatives of the two warring parties for the first time.

“There are high expectations and the meeting should be held as soon as possible,” Ban told reporters alongside Lavrov. Russia’s top diplomat added: “The sooner this conference is held, the better.” But Lavrov still cautioned that it was too early to name the date of the Geneva talks - now expected for the first half of June - because the actual makeup of the Syrian delegations had not yet been decided.

Iran ‘must take part’

Moscow is also calling for the inclusion on this occasion of its trading partner Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia as a counterweight. “One must not exclude a country like Iran from this process because of geopolitical preferences. It is a very important external player. But there is no agreement on this yet,” Lavrov said. He added Saudi Arabia, a foe of both Damascus and Tehran and leading backer of the rebel forces which did not participate in last year’s meeting, should be present.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a joint initiative, dubbed Geneva II, to organize a peace conference end the Syrian conflict.

Ban and Lavrov said they also discussed the suspected use of chemical weapons and Syria’s refusal up to this stage to allow U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground. Russia has been reluctant to accept arguments that the regime was responsible for the nerve agents’ use. Ban for his part stressed that it was “very important” an investigation was conducted into the chemical weapons claims.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said May 16 that more efforts were needed to convince Moscow to drop its support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. “We must have a frank discussion with Russia to convince it that it is in its interests, in the interests of the region, in the interests of peace, to finish with Assad.”