• Talks to end Syria conflict begin in Switzerland


    LAUSANNE: Fresh diplomatic talks to end the Syrian conflict open in Switzerland on Saturday, the first since Washington halted negotiations with Moscow earlier this month on efforts to revive a failed ceasefire.

    With violence still raging in Aleppo, US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and top diplomats from the UN and regional powers in Lausanne.

    But even before the talks began, Lavrov appeared to be dampening down hopes of a breakthrough with Russian news agencies on Friday quoting him as saying he had no “special expectations” for the latest diplomatic effort.

    And a French diplomatic source told AFP: “When you see the results from the previous efforts, quite frankly I’m a bit skeptical about the next ones.”

    But a senior US official, traveling with Kerry, told reporters that the talks were designed to explore ideas for ending the conflict not to produce an immediate breakthrough.

    “I think we need to see what happens in the room to determine whether this is the beginning of a new process that continues in this format or not,” he said.

    With no let-up in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught on eastern Aleppo, the sides will look at how to revive a short-lived ceasefire.

    Moscow and Washington hammered out the agreement before it quickly crumbled last month amid the ferocious assault on the rebel-held part of the city, backed by Russian air power.

    The offensive has sparked accusations of potential war crimes from the West.

    Lavrov also insisted on Friday that Russia did not plan to present new initiatives on ways to resolve the conflict.

    Instead he said Moscow would call for “concrete steps” to implement earlier UN resolutions and the now defunct US-Russia ceasefire deal.

    Kerry and Lavrov will be joined in Lausanne by UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, along with the top diplomats of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—all backers of Syrian opposition forces.

    Iran, a key supporter of Assad’s regime, has said its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will take part as well.

    And the US official told reporters that Egypt, Iraq and Jordan would be represented.



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