Syria peace talks set to start: Russian minister

Syria peace talks are expected to begin within a few days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Zurich on Wednesday, adding that Moscow was ready to cooperate closer with the United States on Syria aid supplies.

Syria peace talks set to start: Russian minister
Lavrov and Kerry in Zurich on Wednesday. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin Pool/AFP

Lavrov, who met his US counterpart John Kerry earlier teh same day in the Swiss city in a bid to give momentum to Syria peace talks due to begin on January 25th, rejected suggestions the negotiations might be delayed until February amid
disagreements over who will represent the opposition.
“We are sure that in the next few days, in January, these talks should begin,” he told reporters.
He stressed though that the United Nations was leading the process and the start date would ultimately be determined by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and his envoy on Syria Staffan De Mistura.
Kerry did not make any comments Wednesday, but his spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the two men had “discussed plans for the UN-led negotiations between the Syrian parties on January 25th and the importance of
maintaining progress toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria.”
Before leaving Washington on Tuesday, Kirby had meanwhile acknowledged that “there is still quite a bit of work that needs to be done to get the meeting to occur” between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and representatives of the opposition.
But disagreement over who will represent the opposition has cast doubt over whether the UN-brokered talks will begin on schedule.
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.

Closer coordination on aid

Lavrov meanwhile said Wednesday that he and Kerry had discussed another thorny issue: Russia's air strikes in Syria.
He said Moscow was ready to coordinate more closely with the US-led coalition to help facilitate aid deliveries inside the war-torn country.
“We spoke about how the Russian airforce, when planning its actions, takes into account the programmes that the UN humanitarian organisations, the Red Cross and other NGOs carry out,” Lavrov said.
“We said that we will be ready to more closely coordinate our actions with the American coalition in this direction,” he stressed.
Earlier Wednesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Russian air strikes had killed more than 1,000 civilians, including more than 200 children, in Syria since they began in September.
Russia is a staunch ally of the Syrian government and has coordinated itsstrikes with Damascus, saying it is targeting IS and other “terrorist” groups.
But activists and rebels accuse Moscow of focusing more on moderate and Islamist opposition fighters than IS.
A coalition led by Washington has also been carrying out strikes against IS in Syria since September 2014, but it does not coordinate its raids with Damascus.
Those strikes have killed 4,256 people since they began, among them 322 civilians, including over 90 children, according to the Observatory.

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