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Kerry: Syria peace prospects ride on weapons talks

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 13 2013 7:12 a.m. MDT

Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement about Syria at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.

Associated Press

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GENEVA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday the prospects for resuming the Syrian peace process are riding on the outcome of U.S.-Russian talks aimed at securing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal that lurched into a second day.

As American and Russian chemical weapons experts huddled in a Geneva hotel to haggle over technical details that will be critical to reach a deal, Kerry and Lavrov met a short distance away at the U.N.'s European headquarters with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to examine political developments and plot a new international conference in Geneva to support the creation of a Syrian transitional government.

Brahimi acknowledged the high stakes when he told the diplomatic pair that their chemical weapons negotiation "is extremely important in itself, and for itself, but it is also extremely important for us who are working with you on trying to bring together the Geneva conference successfully."

Kerry, flanked by Lavrov and Brahimi, told the Geneva press corps after an hour-long meeting that the chances for a second peace conference in Geneva will require success first with the chemical weapons talks, which have been "constructive" so far.

"I will say on behalf of the United States that President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria, and we know that Russia is likewise. We are working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen. We discussed some of the homework that we both need to do," Kerry said.

Kerry said they agreed to meet around Sept. 28 on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly high-level meetings in New York. But, he said, the future of peace negotiations depends on the outcome of the weapons talks.

"And we are committed to try to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world," he added.

Brahimi also met privately with Kerry at a Geneva hotel on Thursday to explore ways to resume international negotiations last held in Geneva in June 2012 aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.

Lavrov said Russia has supported the peace process from the start of the Syrian conflict but that "it is very unfortunate that for a long period the Geneva communique was basically abandoned."

Lavrov said he, Kerry and Brahimi discussed ways of preparing for a second conference along with the document, which "means that the Syrian parties must reach mutual consent on the transitional governing organ, which would come with full executive authority. And the communique also says that all groups of Syrian society must be represented."

When the talks began Thursday, Kerry bluntly rejected a Syrian pledge to begin a "standard process" by turning over information rather than weapons — and nothing immediately. The American diplomat said that was not acceptable.

"The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough," Kerry declared as he stood beside Lavrov. "This is not a game."

Salem Al Meslet, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said he was disappointed in the outcome of the Kerry and Lavrov meeting.

"They are leaving the murderer and concentrating on the weapons he was using," he said of Assad. "It is like stabbing somebody with a knife then they take the knife away and he is free."

He spoke on the sidelines of a two-day opposition conference in Istanbul.

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