US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that international talks are the best way “save the state of Syria” from destruction, and pressed with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for a conference to try to end the country’s civil war, which has claimed at least 93,000 lives in two years.
“We both agreed that our countries have an ability to be able to make a difference if we can pull together in that effort,” Kerry said after meeting Lavrov on the sidelines of an Asian security summit in Brunei.
Washington and Moscow have been at odds over Syria, with the Kremlin backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington last month pledging to give some military support to Syrian rebels.
But despite the differences, Kerry said the objective of the United States and Russia “remains the same… to recognize the notion that there really isn’t a military victory per se in Syria that keeps Syria as a country, and … that we have an obligation to try to work towards a peaceful resolution because a peaceful settlement is the best way to save the state of Syria and to minimize the destruction.”
Russia and the US “agreed to move forward on the basis of what has already been agreed” at a preliminary round of talks on Syria, held last week in Geneva, Lavrov said.
“Our American partners recognize that the main task at hand now is to achieve a consolidation of the opposition,” the Russian foreign minister told reporters.
US and Russian officials met in Geneva last week to try to map out a road to peace in Syria, but failed to agree on a date for a follow-up international conference aimed at ending the conflict.
They did agree, however, that a vital step toward peace in Syria was for a transitional government to be set up “by mutual consent with the full transfer of power,” Kerry said.
Both men called for the next round of talks to be held “sooner rather than later,” Kerry said, although he acknowledged that they might not happen before August.
The fate of Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor wanted by the United States for leaking state secrets, and reported to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, came up briefly during the talks between Kerry and Lavrov, but the two diplomats said they did not discuss the case in detail.
Lavrov said Russian President Vladimir Putin “already said it all” when he laid out the conditions under which Snowden could stay in Russia – namely that he stop leaking US secrets – and Kerry said Snowden was not on Lavrov’s portfolio, “so it wasn’t discussed in a way that he would be able to take any action on it.”