Lavrov, Kerry call for prompt start to Syria talks

U.N. envoy sees staggered start to Syria peace talks with participants arriving over several days for ‘indirect meetings’

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a late phone conversation on Friday called for a prompt start to the next round of Syria peace talks, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The talks, under the aegis of the United Nations were originally due to begin on March 7 in Geneva, but have been postponed until March 9, due to “logistical and technical reasons and also for the ceasefire to better settle down,” the U.N. said.

“The two sides called to start the negotiations as soon as possible ... between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the opposition, during which the Syrians themselves should determine the future of their country,” the ministry said in a statement.

Kerry and Lavrov also reaffirmed the need for mutual cooperation to ensure the end of hostilities in Syria, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Syria envoy expects a staggered start to peace talks next week, with participants arriving over several days for “indirect meetings,” he said in an interview with pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

“I see us beginning on March 10 when we will launch the process,” said envoy Staffan de Mistura. “Some (participants) will arrive on the ninth. Others, because of difficulties with hotel reservations, will arrive on the 11th. Others will arrive on the 14th.”

The talks will be conducted indirectly, not face-to-face.

“We will hold preparatory meetings and then go into detail with each group separately,” he said.

De Mistura attempted to convene peace talks in January, but these failed before they had even started in earnest. The five-year Syrian civil war has killed more than a quarter of a million people and created a massive refugee crisis for Lebanon, Turkey and the European Union.

The new effort follows the implementation of a partial truce a week ago, though fighting continues in many parts of Syria as it does not include the Islamic State and Nusra Front groups.

The reduction in violence has made aid deliveries easier in some areas of the country, but de Mistura said the Syrian government should be processing aid faster.

“Lorries are waiting for 36 hours,” he said. “And medical aid must be allowed.”

On Wednesday the World Health Organization said Syrian officials had rejected the delivery of medical supplies, including trauma and burn kits and antibiotics, in a convoy to the besieged town of Moadamiya two days earlier.

De Mistura said he plans to invite members of the government, the opposition, civil society and women to the peace talks.

“Women are important to us because they have a lot to tell us about the future of Syria. We will meet with them separately,” he said.

135 killed in Syria

A total of 135 people were killed in the first week of a fragile truce in Syria in areas covered by the cessation of hostilities agreement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.

In areas not covered by the ceasefire, which came into force on Feb. 27, 552 people were killed, the Britain-based Observatory that monitors the country's five-year-old civil war said.