Russia, US work on Syria cooperation plan as UN seeks new peace talks

Russia and the United States are trying to finalize a plan to cooperate more closely on the war in Syria, the chief diplomats of the two world powers said Tuesday.

Such an agreement between Moscow, which supports the Syrian government, and Washington, which backs the rebels, could have a "have a strong, positive effect" on efforts to restart Syrian peace talks in late August, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva.

Both countries have reached new agreements on separating terrorists from opposition fighters in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his US counterpart John Kerry at a summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Laos.

"Agreements were made on practical steps that should be taken to effectively fight against terrorists, to prevent the so-called moderate opposition from remaining on terrorist-controlled territories," he said.

Lavrov said the deals were reached during Kerry's visit to Moscow earlier this month, during which he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We hope that we will be able to ensure disengagement between opposition forces and terrorists from Islamic State and al-Nusra Front," Lavrov said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.

"We discussed what needs to be done in order for these agreements to be manifested in activities of the Russian air force and US forces, as well as the US-led coalition," Lavrov said.

Kerry told reporters that there was still "homework that needs to be completed" before the deal can be announced in the next two weeks.

"In simple terms, what everybody knows we are trying to do is strengthen the cessation of hostilities, provide a framework which allows us to actually get to the table and have a real negotiation and try to move forward here," he explained.

Both Russia and the US agree on the need to eliminate UN-designated terrorist organizations that have gained significant territory in war-torn Syria in recent years.

They disagree, however, on the future of President Bashar al-Assad.

Lavrov on Tuesday criticized the Syrian opposition for insisting on al-Assad's resignation as an ultimatum.

Washington has made clear that it sees no political future for the Syrian leader.

In Geneva, de Mistura met with senior US and Russian officials to discuss ways to get humanitarian aid to civilians, fight terrorism and revive the peace talks.

"We hope that concrete progress on the Kerry-Lavrov understanding will take place visibly," de Mistura said.

The UN diplomat last held peace talks with government and opposition representatives in Geneva in April, when the opposition walked out to protest attacks from al-Assad's forces and Russia, as well as blocked aid shipments.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes.

Last update: Tue, 26/07/2016 - 20:33

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