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U.S., Russia agree to convene talks on Syria

MOSCOW -- The United States and Russia have agreed to convene an international conference as soon as this month to try to end two years of bloodshed in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced after talks Tuesday in Moscow.

The goal is to bring together Syrian rebels and government officials to begin negotiating a transition to a new regime, following a roadmap worked out in Geneva last year that has never gotten off the ground, officials said.

The announcement appeared to reflect a softening of Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a source of contention with the United States which has demanded that he relinquish power.

“I would like to emphasize that we … are not interested in the fate of certain persons,” Lavrov told reporters. “We are interested in the fate of the total Syrian people.”

Kerry, who also met with President Vladimir Putin, said, “The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria: stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere.”

Yet it remained unclear whether the two sides be able to bring together Assad, who has insisted that he will never surrender his post, and the rebels who have refused to negotiate with him.

The United States, Russia and other world powers worked out a guideline for peace talks last year in Geneva that called for the two sides to begin working out the shape of a new government. But differences remained over Assad's role. U.S. officials favored a negotiation process that did not involve Assad; Russia wanted him to take part.


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Loiko reported from Moscow; Richter reported from Washington.

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