Kerry, Lavrov to meet in effort to end Syria war

The meeting comes after both Lavrov and Kerry discussed Syria in a telephone conversation

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US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday in an effort to move toward a political agreement to end the Syrian civil war, the US State Department said on Thursday.

“Their discussion follows recent conversations on Syria and will focus on reducing violence, expanding humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, and moving towards a political solution needed to end the civil war,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a written statement.

Before US State Department’s statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Lavrov will meet with Kerry in Geneva on Friday morning.

“The meeting will be tomorrow morning. We cannot say the exact time,” a ministry official said.

On Thursday, both Lavrov and Kerry discussed possible cooperation between the two nations to defeat terrorist groups active in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The phone conversation followed discussions on Syria between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama in China earlier this week, the ministry said.

Lavrov and Kerry also discussed potential cooperation to facilitate deliveries of humanitarian aid and achieve a political resolution to the Syria crisis.

The Kremlin said earlier on Thursday Russia and the United States have not yet finalized work on a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve the crisis in Syria, and a compromise was needed on a small number of issues.

Shortly after Lavrov arrived in Geneva for talks with UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, the US State Department said it did not believe it was worthwhile for Kerry to meet with his Russian counterpart.

“It’s our belief that ... the remaining issues are at a technical level that need to be addressed within our interagency and also by some of the working groups,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

“We’re just not at a point where we believe ... that it’s worth his while to go have a meeting,” he added, saying it was willing to meet when the two sides are closer to an agreement and the United States believes it would be useful.

The United States and Russia back opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, which shows little sign of ending after 5-1/2 years of violence in which as many as 400,000 have died and half the prewar population has been uprooted. Moscow supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington believes must go.

On Sept. 2, diplomatic sources said the United States and Russia were nearing a deal that would set a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, allow UN humanitarian access and limit Syrian government aircraft flights.

If one were reached, it could lead to US intelligence sharing with Russia allowing Russian forces to target fighters of the group formerly known as Nusra Front, which Washington views as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed the Syria crisis in a phone call on Thursday, the Kremlin said in a statement.

They agreed to continue coordinating efforts to achieve a resolution in Syria, it said.

Sources also told Reuters that Erdogan and Putin agreed in a phone call on Thursday that efforts should be intensified for a ceasefire in Aleppo over the Eid holiday.

They also agreed the importance of ridding the Syrian border area of “terror organizations,” notably ISIS, presidential sources said.

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