Syria peace talks expected to start ‘in next few days’: Lavrov

Syria peace talks expected to start ‘in next few days’: Lavrov

Syria peace talks expected to start ‘in next few days’: Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) gestures as he meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for talks on the Syria peace process in Zurich on January 20, 2016, before attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. AFP Photo

Syrian peace talks are expected to begin within the next few days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Jan. 20 following a meeting with his U.S. counterpart in Zurich, rejecting suggestions the negotiations might be delayed until February.

“We don’t have any thoughts on moving the start of talks to February,” Lavrov was quoted as telling reporters in Zurich following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the hopes of resolving differences over who is eligible to join U.N.-mediated peace talks for Syria due to begin on Jan. 25. 

“We are sure that in the next few days, in January, these talks should begin,” Lavrov said.

The U.S. State Department said the two men had discussed plans for the negotiations that the U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura hopes to convene in Geneva on Jan. 25 and “the importance of maintaining progress toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis.” But, it was not immediately clear if the differences had been resolved.

In the meeting, Kerry also called for Russia to use its influence with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “to ensure immediate, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all Syrians in need,” the Associated Press quoted State Department spokesman John Kirby as saying, particularly in besieged communities like Madaya, where deaths from starvation have been reported.

Lavrov said Russia was ready for closer cooperation with U.S. on Syria aid supplies issues, AFP reported. 
“We spoke about how the Russian Air Force, when planning its actions, takes into account the programs that the U.N. humanitarian organizations, the Red Cross and other NGOs carry out. We said we will be ready to more closely coordinate our actions with the American coalition in this direction,” Lavrov said. 

Differences over which Syrian opposition groups should be labeled terrorists and barred from the negotiations have threatened to delay the talks, the first step in a proposed 18-month political transition for Syria.

Lavrov, asked as the meeting began if the Syria negotiations would begin as planned, told reporters, “We will see, we will see.”

Referring to the composition of the opposition delegation, he said, “It’s mostly for de Mistura, not for us.”

Kerry kept silent. He was scheduled to travel to the Swiss resort town of Davos for the World Economic Forum and speak with de Mistura. 

On Jan. 19, Kirby had acknowledged that a lot of work remained to ensure that the talks go ahead.

“We’re not unmindful of the fact that there still remain differences of opinion, and that this is a complicated process,” Kirby said.  

“And that there is still quite a bit of work that needs to be done to get the meeting to occur” between al-Assad’s regime and representatives of the opposition, Kirby added.

The 17 countries pushing for a peace deal for war-ravaged Syria, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have struggled to agree on the list of opposition delegates.

A Syrian opposition coalition backed by Saudi Arabia, however, announced in Riyadh on Jan. 20 that it had pulled together a delegation to take part in the talks.

Riad Hijab, who heads the council formed in Riyadh last month, accused Russia of impeding negotiations, and also told a news conference in Riyadh that the opposition could not negotiate while Syrians were dying from blockades and bombardment, Reuters reported. 

He also announced the names of opposition figures that would negotiate on behalf of the council in any talks.

They included Mohamed Alloush, a political figure in the Jaysh al-Islam (Islam Army) rebel group that is deemed a terrorist group by Damascus and Moscow.

“The opposition delegation is now ready,” George Sabra, an opposition politician also named as a negotiator, told opposition channel Orient TV. Asaad al-Zoubi, another opposition figure, was named as the head of the negotiating team.