U.S. and Russia to Hold Syria Peace Talks, Kerry Says

The U.S. and Russia have agreed to hold a peace conference on Syria some time after August to find a “peaceful settlement” to the two-year-old civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The top U.S. diplomat announced the framework of an agreement for the talks after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today in Brunei.

“We both agreed that our countries have the ability to be able to make a difference if we can pull together in this effort,” Kerry said at the U.S. embassy in Brunei, following a two-day meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

While both countries agreed in principle to a conference, “there are still things that have to be worked out over these next days” and talks may not occur until after August, Kerry said.

The U.S. and Russia have disagreed how the conflict might be resolved throughout its two-year duration, a dispute that worsened after the Obama administration announced plans to send arms to the rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lavrov termed that decision “a disaster” for the prospects of a peaceful resolution. Russia backs the Assad regime and supplies it with weapons, while the U.S. has said Assad must go.

Kerry said today the U.S. and Russia share a common goal of ending the war peacefully.

‘Transition Government’

“Whether the regime is doing better or the opposition is doing better is frankly not determinative of that outcome,” he said of the chance for a settlement. “The outcome requires a transition government.”

A Syrian rebel group said today that it was behind the bombing of a government security office in the capital, Damascus, which targeted a group of senior officers loyal to Assad. There was no word on casualties.

Sham Brigade group released two videos claiming responsibility for what one member said was the start of a string of attacks against “commanders of Assad’s militias.” He said the group would release the names of the targeted officers later.

One video on YouTube showed plumes of smoke rising in the dark from what the group said was the scene of the attack. Gunshots could be heard, followed by the sound of sirens.

After meeting Lavrov, Kerry said he was convinced that both the U.S. and Russia have “the level of seriousness and the capacity of being able to do this.” Lavrov declined to talk to U.S. reporters after meeting Kerry.

‘Both Serious’

“We agreed that we are both serious, more than serious, committed to the Geneva process,” Kerry said of the peace effort.

The agreement came a year after the June 2012 Geneva conference that called on all parties to cease violence and begin a “Syrian-led political process leading to a transition.” The communique, from countries including the U.S., Russia and China as well as the United Nations and Arab League, declared a “firm timetable” without any dates or deadlines.

At the time, the death toll in Syria was estimated by the UN at more than 10,000. It has now reached more than 93,000, the world body says.

Kerry said a conference may be months away, partly because there’s already a U.S.-Russia meeting planned for July on other matters and “August is very difficult for Europeans and others so it may be somewhere thereafter.”

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