EU, Germany demand signs of progress in Syrian peace talks

The top diplomats of the European Union and Germany urged Syria's conflict parties Wednesday to start substantial talks on political transition, as a first round of revived peace talks neared its end without tangible results.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini travelled to Geneva, where she met the Syrian government and opposition delegations that have been holding indirect UN-brokered talks since last week.

Mogherini said political change in Damascus would not only bring peace to Syrians but was also "the only way" to defeat the Islamic State extremist, who have claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels.

"One thing reinforces the other," she said.

"It is important not only for the Syrians, but for the Europeans, that this process starts, works and delivers," she told reporters one day before the current round is scheduled to end.

While the opposition has presented a transition plan last week, the regime delegations has said it is too early to enter substantial talks about political change.

In Moscow, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he sees no political future for Syria's longtime president, pointing to 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees caused by the five-year civil war.

Steinmeier, in Moscow for a series of meetings with Russia's leadership, not only expressed hope that Syria's government will engage in serious consultations in Geneva, but also that the international community will continue to push towards peace.

"If this process is to be successful, if it is to be oriented towards a political solution of the Syria conflict, we must keep up our engagement and, if necessary, our joint pressure on the conflict parties," he said.

Russia is a close ally of Syria's current government and has been a strong backer of the peace process.

Steinmeier said that Syria's government and rebel groups should exchange prisoners.

He and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they had discussed the problem of international terrorism, following the attacks in Brussels, and their countries would seek to collaborate more closely against terrorism.

Lavrov called for European unity.

"I hope that the Europeans will set aside geopolitical game playing in the face of terrorism and unite," he said.

Following Steinmeier's visit, US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the Syrian peace process.

"The two countries are very clearly identifying a common interest in trying to address the issue of terrorism by finding a solution in Syria," the United Nation's Syria peace broker Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva.

While Russia backs al-Assad, the United States has been supported the armed opposition.

Syrian government forces on Wednesday advanced towards the ancient city of Palmyra which is under the control of the Islamic State terrorist militia, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

The city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with monuments thousands of years old.

The Syrian army, backed by Russian warplanes, started a major offensive to retake control of Palmyra two weeks ago.

The city, in the province of Homs, has been under Islamic State's control since May 2015. The radical group's takeover raised international fears about the fate of the city's artefacts.

In August, Islamic State destroyed several famous sites in the city, including the more than 2,000-year-old Baalshamin Temple.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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