US Secretary of State Kerry pushes Syria peace talks with Russian counterpart Lavrov

US Secretary of State Kerry pushes Syria peace talks with Russian counterpart Lavrov

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 5 phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov seeking to give fresh impetus to plans to hold peace talks on Syria, officials said.

After two days of major hearings in the Congress where he pleaded for backing to launch punitive U.S. military strikes against Syria, Kerry returned his focus to the dormant political track, dubbed Geneva II.

During a May visit to Moscow, Kerry and Lavrov hatched proposals to bring the Syrian opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad to the table to negotiate a transition of power.

The talks were aimed at building on a ceasefire deal reached in Geneva in June 2012, which has so far failed to be implemented.

Initially due to be held by the end of May, the second round of proposed talks have been repeatedly postponed and have never materialized amid deep divisions among the Syrian opposition and a dispute over exactly which nations should be invited to participate.

The diplomatic track has also languished amid deteriorating ties between Moscow and Washington.

But U.S. officials say they have remained focused on convening the talks despite President Barack Obama's plan for limited strikes on Syrian targets following last month's suspected chemical weapons attack by the al-Assad regime.

"It's important to note that even though we're focused here and the secretary's focused every day on working with Congress and working on building our international coalition for this specific targeted action, that we still continue to believe that there's no military solution," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We do remain focused on Geneva and using that as a venue for a negotiated political settlement." She said the United States was "still working through the details" and that it had been among issues discussed by Kerry in a Sept. 5 morning call with Lavrov.

The Obama administration is seeking approval from Congress for military strikes to decimate the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability.

Whether such action would force Assad to the negotiating table was uncertain, Psaki acknowledged, but stressing that the United States would like the talks to happen as soon as possible.

"I just don't want to predict what's going to bring every side to the table, but that's part of, of course, the ongoing discussion," she told reporters.

It is likely significant however that the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 5 to attend a G-20 summit.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who recently spoke with Kerry, was to travel to Russia on Sept. 9 to discuss the crisis.