Syria's foreign minister said Saturday his delegation had rejected a U.S. request for direct talks unless Secretary of State John Kerry apologized for his remarks at the Geneva II talks.
"The Americans asked us to negotiate directly with them in Montreux," Walid Muallem told Syrian state media on the plane home from 10 days of peace talks in the Swiss cities of Montreux and Geneva, AFP reported.
"But we refused to do so before Secretary of State John Kerry apologized for what he said at the conference," Muallem added, in remarks carried by state news agency SANA.
Syria's government and opposition began the so-called Geneva II talks on January 22, with the participation of dozens of nations, including Russia, which backs the regime, and the United States, which supports the opposition.
Meanwhile, the United Nations' secretary-general pressed the U.S. and Russia to help ensure that peace talks aimed at stemming Syria's civil war can soon resume, while Russia's foreign minister said Saturday that it is "very difficult" to push Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to make concessions.
A week of peace talks ended in Geneva on Friday with no concrete progress and no immediate commitment from Assad's envoys to return on Feb. 10 for more meetings with the Western-backed opposition as suggested by mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a conference of global security officials in Munich that he urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting on the sidelines "to use their influence to ensure the talks proceed as scheduled on Feb. 10."
Ban urged the warring parties to "come back with more sense of earnestness as well as seriousness and urgency." Specifically, he called on "both sides and the government in particular to allow the unfettered access required under international humanitarian law."
An agreement to allow aid convoys into the central Syrian city of Homs has remained stalled, with the government and opposition accusing each other of holding up the aid delivery into the city, which has been under siege for nearly two years.
Lavrov insisted that "Russia can do nothing alone" and urged the U.S. and others to exert their influence on the Syrian opposition.
Ban said that "it is hard going but we have made a start."
"The parties may still be fighting but now they are also talking - this is the only hope for a political solution," he said.
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