Russia agrees to new round of Syria talks in New York

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FILE - In this June 5, 2014, file photo, a man rides a bicycle through a devastated part of Homs, Syria. From the three-year-old boy who washed ashore on a Turkish beach to the 71 migrants who suffocated in a truck in Austria to the daily scenes of chaos unfolding in European cities as governments try to halt a human tide heading north. There is no let up to the horrors that Syria’s civil war keeps producing. Syria’s brutal conflict, now in its fifth year, has touched off the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. About 250,000 people have been killed and more than one million wounded since March 2011, according to U.N. officials. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, File)

The next round of international talks on Syria will go ahead in New York on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said after a meeting between his US counterpart John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking in Moscow late on Tuesday, Lavrov said: “We support the idea of convening in New York another meeting of the International Syria Support Group at the ministerial level this Friday, December 18.”

Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said Russia and the US had found “common ground” on which opposition groups should participate in any future Syrian peace talks.

Kerry had arrived in Moscow on Tuesday with no guarantee the New York meeting would be agreed – a key part of a new diplomatic push to end the Syrian war next year.

Washington is relying on the Kremlin to drag Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad to the table for talks with his rebel opponents, while Saudi Arabia is putting together the coalition that would negotiate on behalf of the rebels.

Looming over the effort is the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) group to spread the carnage beyond Syria’s borders.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon, earlier this month announced a new round of talks in New York, but did not specify a date. Russia was until Tuesday non-committal on his announcement.

The talks are part of a new drive by diplomats, announced in Vienna in November, to end the war in Syria. It planned ceasefires, the creation of a “transitional” administration by June that would oversee elections and a new constitution within two years.

That meeting was attended by both Saudi Arabia and Iran for the first time. However, no Syrian representatives were present.

Diplomats in the Syria Support Group said they hoped to have both sides talking by January.

Last week after a summit in Riyadh, rebel groups agreed to form a negotiating committee to meet representatives of the Syrian government early next year.

However, the rebels’ closing statement insisted on the removal of Assad before any ‘transition’ takes place – in effect calling on him to leave office by June.

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