Kerry lands in Geneva for Syria peace talks with Russia’s Lavrov

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SHAFAQNA –  John Kerry has arrived in Geneva for Syrian peace talks on Friday with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, the US state department has said.

Lavrov arrived at the talks venue in Geneva on Thursday, and held a one-hour meeting with the UN peace envoy, Staffan de Mistura.

But Kerry delayed his departure, seeking to narrow differences between Washington and Moscow on the details of the proposed truce before flying across the Atlantic. Just a few hours before the state department announcement of Kerry’s departure, spokesman Mark Toner said that remaining gaps on “technical” issues meant it was “not worth his while to go have a meeting”.

State department officials would not comment on the change of mind, and it was not clear whether the differences had been fully resolved or Kerry had decided his presence in Switzerland would help clinch a final deal.

It is believed that the peace plan would start with a ceasefire around Aleppo and a withdrawal of forces from key routes into the besieged city, leading to an end to the Syrian regime’s airstrikes and a joint US-Russia campaign against groups both countries designate as terrorist.

US officials said on Wednesday the last differences to be resolved included delineating territory between Jabhat Fateh al-Sham formerly the Nusra front, a former al-Qaida affiliate – which both Moscow and Washington agree is a terrorist organisation and a legitimate target – and other opposition groups, on which they differ. A European diplomat said on Thursday, that there was just a single remaining substantive issue dividing US and Russian governments but it is not clear whether that involved Nusra positions or another subject.

In a speech at Oxford University in England on Wednesday, Carter downplayed hopes of reaching an agreement with Russia regarding peace in Syria.

“Unfortunately so far, Russia, with its support for the Assad regime, has made the situation in Syria more dangerous, more prolonged and more violent. That has contributed to what President Obama this weekend called the ‘gaps of trust’ that exist between our two countries,” Carter said.

The US and Russia have backed opposite sides in Syria’s conflict. Moscow supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington insists must go as part of a political transition.

Russia has repeatedly said that the foreign-backed militants use ceasefire deals to regroup and launch more attacks. Since late September 2015, Moscow has been assisting the Syrian government to strike terrorists across the country. The US says the air campaign has sometimes targeted the US-backed militants operating in the country.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The UN special envoy estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The Takfiri militants have suffered major setbacks over the past few months as the Syrian army has moved to liberate many key areas.

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