Efforts being made to get Syrian peace conference under way, say US and Russia

Kerry and Lavrov give Assad credit for complying with destruction of chemical weapons

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Deir al-Zor  dries a dog after giving it a wash. Photograph: Khalil Ashawi

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Deir al-Zor dries a dog after giving it a wash. Photograph: Khalil Ashawi


US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced yesterday that preparations are being made to hold the repeatedly postponed international conference on Syria by mid-November. The aim of the conference is to end bloodshed and form a transitional government that would transform Syria from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy.

“We re-committed [to] very specific efforts to move the Geneva process as rapidly as possible,” Mr Kerry said, adding that both sides would “lay the groundwork for a round of talks”.

They said they would urge for “a date to be set as soon as possible” when they meet UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr Lavrov said: “Today we agreed on the steps needed for both the government and the opposition to come to the conference.”

Although the government and the expatriate opposition have said they will attend talks, differences between the sides remain and the opposition has been repudiated by 13 key fundamentalist and jihadi actions fighting to topple the government.

Following discussions with Mr Lavrov on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Indonesia, Mr Kerry also said Washington and Moscow are “very pleased” with progress achieved so far in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and gave president Bashar al-Assad credit for compliance with the UN Security Council resolution requiring the destruction of the weapons.

“We hope that will continue. Now, 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 also praised those involved in the elimination effort as taking part in “a terrific example of global co-operation.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has begun destroying machinery for the manufacture of such weapons as well as warheads and shells, confirmed that Syria’s government is being “co-operative” in the process to eliminate the stockpile by mid-2014.

Mr Lavrov urged the western- and Arab-supported opposition to ensure that “non-state actors” – rebels and jihadis – do not acquire chemical weapons.

The UN predicts that another two million Syrians will become refugees in 2014 and 2½ million more will be displaced within the country as the conflict escalates and essential services are increasingly disrupted. The number of refugees is expected to reach 3.2 million by December 2013, an increase of one million, while up to 8.3 million, one-third of the population of 23 million, will require aid by the end of next year.