• Ban to meet Putin as pressure on Russia over Syria grows

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    MOSCOW: United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki-moon was to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday as global pressure grows on Moscow to end arms supplies to the Syrian regime and drop  its support for President Bashar al-Assad.

    Ban was to have separate talks with both Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi where the Russian leader has been based for the past week.

    The UN leader told Russian news agencies as he entered the first talks with Lavrov that he intended to discuss “the political settlement in Syria,” in comments translated into Russian.

    The meetings come after French President Francois Hollande upped the pressure on the
    Kremlin on Thursday by saying more efforts were needed to convince Moscow to “finish with Bashar al-Assad.”

    Ban’s mission and a May 10 visit to Sochi by British Prime Minister David Cameron follow
    Putin’s May 7 talks in Moscow with US Secretary of State John Kerry during which the sides agreed to set up a new round of Syria negotiations within a matter of weeks.

    That meeting—now expected to take place in Geneva in early June—hopes to build on a failed June 2012 peace initiative that called for the quick creation of a transitional government but defined no clear role for Assad.

    The new talks are meant to include the warring parties for the first time—a difficulty considering some opposition members’ refusal to recognize Assad as a negotiating partner.

    Moscow is also calling for the inclusion on this occasion of its trading partner Iran and US ally Saudi Arabia as a counterweight.

    Russia continues to deliver arms to Syria—the regime’s most powerful remaining ally—but claims that it has no real interest in seeing Assad remain in power.

    AFP

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