DAMASCUS – The US and Russia made a joint call Monday for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and the rebels to agree to ceasefires in parts of their battle-scarred country ahead of peace talks next week.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state John Kerry met for two-day talks in Paris along with UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
Kerry and Lavrov called for the ceasefire to start ahead of the Geneva II talks due to begin in Montreux in Switzerland on January 22.
“We talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire, maybe a localized ceasefire beginning with Aleppo (in the north of Syria),” Kerry said.
“What can be done before the beginning of the conference should be done,” Lavrov said. “We are going to try to send signals to all the Syrian sides on the need for the establishment of a localized ceasefire.”
Washington and Moscow are hoping to build momentum ahead of the talks, which are seeking to revive efforts to hammer out a deal on a transitional government after a nearly three-year conflict that has killed 130,000 people.
Kerry and Lavrov said they also discussed possible prisoner exchanges and the opening of humanitarian corridors to bring aid to the millions affected by the conflict.
Lavrov said Syria government had indicated it was ready to allow access for humanitarian aid.
On Iran’s participation, Lavrov said there was an “absolutely apparent need” for the participation of both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Washington insisted that Tehran should agree with the idea of a transitional government before the start of Geneva II conference.
However Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Sunday that Tehran would only take part in the Syria talks “without any preconditions”.
Meanwhile, Syria warned on Monday against any preconditions for the Switzerland peace talks next week after an opposition leader said that the departure of Assad was “inevitable”.
“Any person who seeks preconditions or mistakes their dreams for reality is leading to the failure of the Geneva conference before it even starts,” Syrian state media quoted a foreign ministry source as saying .
The statement came after the Sunday meeting of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of nations that back the Syrian opposition. The president of Syria’s opposition National Coalition Ahmed Jarba said: “We all agreed that there is no future for Bashar al-Assad and his family in Syria.”
“His departure is inevitable.”
The Syrian government has said it will attend the January 22 peace talks in the town of Montreux instead of Geneva as originally planned. It said that Assad’s departure from office is not on the table.
After Paris, Kerry will head to the Vatican Tuesday to meet top officials for talks on Middle East peace efforts, before heading to Kuwait City for a conference where the United Nations is seeking $6.5 billion (4.7 billion euros) to aid Syrians affected by the war.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition is in disarray ahead of the Geneva talks on 22 January and the Paris meetings were intended to pressure it to attend.
The Syrian National Coalition has struggled for credibility within Syria, as one rebel brigade after another has broken away and accused the exiled group of being out of touch.
The coalition is nearing collapse, with members split on whether to attend talks that would bring the opposition to the negotiating table with President Bashar al-Assad’s representatives for the first time, said the Guardian.