GENEVA (AFP) – Washington and Moscow said Friday they hoped talks on dismantling Syria’s chemical arsenal would open the door to wider peace efforts, as they entered a second day of high-stakes meetings in Geneva.
Heading into discussions with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the two would meet again later this month — probably around September 28 — to try to set a date for a long-delayed peace conference.
He said Washington and Moscow were “working hard to find common ground” to implement the Geneva II peace talks, which would bring together Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s and the opposition to negotiate a political solution to the conflict.
Much of the way forward “will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here in the next day, hours, days, on the subject of the chemical weapons,” Kerry told reporters after meeting with Lavrov and the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Lavrov said he also hoped the “basically abandoned” peace plan first agreed in Geneva in June last year would be revived.
“We agreed to meet in New York in the margins of the General Assembly and see where we are, and what the Syrian parties think about it and do about it,” Lavrov said.
Washington and Moscow are hammering out the details in Geneva of dismantling Assad’s chemical arsenal under a Russian plan that emerged this week — kickstarting long-stalled diplomatic efforts on Syria.
The last-minute Russian initiative caused U.S. President Barack Obama to back away from planned military strikes in response to a chemical attack that allegedly left hundreds dead last month.
Assad confirmed for the first time on Thursday that Syria planned to relinquish its chemical arms, and Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the global community to take him seriously.
“This confirms the serious intentions of our partners to go along this path,” Putin said in Kyrgyzstan, adding that diplomatic efforts had reduced “an immediate threat of a military operation”.
Syria on Thursday filed documents at the United Nations seeking to join the international convention banning chemical weapons and said it now considers itself a full member.
While U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon welcomed the application, the United Nations would not immediately confirm it had been accepted.
And Washington warned the regime that further steps were needed before military action would be off the table, with Kerry saying words “are simply not enough”.