Russia to hold Syria talks with US, regional powers
Russia will hold Syria talks with the United States and regional powers this weekend, it said on Wednesday, in what is set to be the first meeting on the conflict since Washington froze bilateral ceasefire negotiations at the start of the month.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to hold talks aimed at "creating the conditions for the resolution of the Syrian crisis" in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday, alongside top diplomats from "key countries in the region", Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
In an interview Wednesday, Lavrov said the talks should include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and possibly Qatar, CNN reported.
"We would like to have a meeting in this narrow format, to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like debate," he was quoted as saying.
A second international meeting on the deadly violence in Syria will take place Sunday in London, the US State Department said.
Kerry will attend both meetings to discuss "a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis in Syria, including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries," his spokesman John Kirby said.
The meetings come as tensions between Moscow and the West have spiked over the conflict after peace efforts unravelled last month, with Russia unleashing an intense bombing campaign in support of a government assault on the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.
Kerry had called for a war crimes investigation into the Russian bombardment of Aleppo.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the accusations as "political rhetoric" on Wednesday
"It's political rhetoric that does not mean much and does not take into account the realities in Syria," Putin told France's TF1 television. "I am deeply convinced that it is our Western partners, first and foremost of course the United States, who are responsible for the situation."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande urged Putin in a telephone call on Wednesday to push for a ceasefire in Syria, sources in the French presidency said.
Hollande took advantage of a three-way conversation on the conflict in Ukraine to "reiterate his position on the urgency of a ceasefire and access to humanitarian aid in Syria," the sources said, adding that he was "clearly supported by the chancellor".