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Russia, Iran, Turkey talks on Syria de-escalation zones fall short

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says US is open to discuss no-fly zones with Kremlin
Kurdish fighter from People's Protection Units looks on after coalition air strike in Raqqa, Syria (Reuters)

Russia, Turkey and Iran failed on Wednesday to agree on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria after Ankara raised objections, diplomats said.

Russia and Iran, which back President Bashar al-Assad's government, and Turkey, which supports some of the rebels, aim to reach a consensus on the zones by the end of August, when their delegations are set to meet again in the Kazakh capital.

The failure is a setback for Moscow, the main architect of the plan, as it seeks to take the lead in global efforts to settle the Syrian civil war.

"During these consultations, the Turkish side said it needed more time in order ... to make an appropriate decision," said senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev.

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Russia, Turkey and Iran have set up a working group to reconcile their positions before the next Astana meeting, set for the final week of August.

Lavrentyev said details related to the southern de-escalation zone would require approval by the US and Jordan, both of which support rebels based there.

Turkish delegates made no statement to the media after the talks.

The United States, meanwhile, said on Wednesday it is prepared to work with Russia on the establishment of "no-fly zones" in Syria, according to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In a wide-ranging statement issued two days ahead of President Donald Trump's first face-to-face with Vladimir Putin, Tillerson said Russia had a "special responsibility" to help stabilise the war-ravaged country.

"The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on the ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance," Tillerson said.

The Kazakh talks, which began in January, come at a time when Turkey and Russia each want to disentangle themselves from the fighting. That has led them into an ad hoc alliance, although they still trade barbs.

Since the May agreement was announced, the rebel-held stronghold of Idlib province in the northwest of Syria has been mostly calm.

Still, fighting has continued on other frontlines in western Syria, including Eastern Ghouta near Damascus and the southwestern city of Daraa, where government forces and their allies are trying to crush remaining pockets of rebellion.

If the agreement on de-escalation zones is completed, Russia, then Iran and Turkey will be able to quickly - within weeks - deploy forces such as military police on the borders of those zones, Lavrentyev has said.

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