US, Russia to urge UN for Syria peace talks in mid-November

John Kerry says Syrian government deserves credit for complying with UN resolution to destroy its chemical weapons

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) return to their hotel in Damascus yesterday. The team of international experts have begun the process of destroying Syria’s chemical gas arsenal. Photograph: Reuters

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) return to their hotel in Damascus yesterday. The team of international experts have begun the process of destroying Syria’s chemical gas arsenal. Photograph: Reuters

Mon, Oct 7, 2013, 08:03

The United States and Russia have agreed to press the United Nations to set a date for a Syria peace conference sometime in the second week of November, US Secretary of State John Kerry said today after talks with his Russian counterpart.

“We will urge a date to be set as soon as possible,” Mr Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Kerry also said that the start of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria was a “good beginning” and, in unusual praise for Damascus, said Syria’s government should be given credit for complying with a recent UN resolution to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

“I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road but it is a good beginning and we should welcome a good beginning,” he added.

Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov met at a resort on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Bali, Indonesia, where they signed an agreement on nuclear risk reduction centres in Washington and Moscow, first created in 1987 to facilitate verification of arms control treaties and agreements.

They met first with aides and then privately where they discussed ways to end Syria’s civil war and upcoming talks with Iran on ending a dispute over its nuclear weapons program.

Mr Kerry characterized his meeting with Mr Lavrov as “one of the most productive we have had”, saying they spoke at length about ways to bring warring parties in Syria together for talks in Geneva, known as Geneva 2.

“We agreed again there is no military solution here and we share an interest in not having radical extremists on either side assuming a greater position in Syria, and that is why we re-committed today very specific efforts to move the Geneva process as rapidly as possible,” Mr Kerry said.

He said both sides would seek to “lay the groundwork for a round of talks.”

“It is our mutual hope that that can happen in November and we are both intent and determined in consultations with our friends in these efforts to try to make certain this can happen in November,” Mr Kerry said, adding: “A final date and terms of participation will have to be determined by the United Nations.”

A team of international experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and personnel from the United Nations began destroying Syria’s chemical gas arsenal yesterday.

It follows an agreement hammered out between Washington and Moscow after a deadly August 21st chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which prompted US threats of air strikes against the Syrian government. The elimination of the chemical weapons is expected to continue until at least mid-2014.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria’s conflict, which began in early 2011 with peaceful demonstrations seeking more democracy but deteriorated into a sectarian civil war.

Agencies