The Syrian government and some rebels may be willing to permit humanitarian aid to flow, to enforce local ceasefires, and to take other confidence-building measures in the nearly three-year-old civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
According to Reuters, Kerry said that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire. Maybe a localized ceasefire, beginning with Aleppo," Syria's largest city. "And both of us have agreed to try to work to see if that could be achieved."
Diplomats are trying to persuade the combatants to agree to a series of steps to improve the atmosphere for Syrian peace talks planned for Switzerland on January 22.
Kerry spoke at a press conference in Paris with Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary general's top Syria envoy.
Lavrov, whose government backs Assad, said the Syrian government had indicated it might provide access for humanitarian aid to reach besieged areas. He specifically cited the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, where 160,000 people have been largely trapped by fighting, according to the United Nations.
"We await similar steps by the opposition," Lavrov said.
Iran invited to Switzerland
Another important issue discussed by the three negotiators deals with Iran’s participation in the conference. According to Brahimi, an invitation to the Swiss town of Montreux, where the gathering is to take place, has been sent to Tehran.
“Iran participation or non-participation is not a matter of ideology, it is a matter of common sense,” the envoy said, according to RT.
Kerry said that the U.S. supports Iran’s participation in the conference, but insists that Tehran endorses the peace roadmap agreed to during the previous Syria peace conference in Geneva.
Iranian presence at the conference has been a matter of heated debate. A key ally of the Syrian government, Iran, was not welcomed in Montreux by some supporters of the armed opposition, including Saudi Arabia.
Kerry previously said Iran could contribute “on the sidelines” of the conference, a notion which was refused in Tehran, saying it undermined its dignity.
Saudi Arabia’s participation in the conference is no less relevant than that of Iran, Lavrov said.
“We hope that in the end the UN Secretary General will invite everyone, who has an impact on the real development of the situation,” he said.
The meeting in Paris was apparently less tense than some previous meetings between Lavrov and Kerry, with the two confirming that Russia and the U.S. are in full agreement on most issues. Apart from serious diplomatic exchanges, the two diplomats had some fun with an exchange of small presents.
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