Free Syrian Army

Syrians meet in Kazakhstan ahead of Geneva peace talks

Syrian government officials sat face-to-face with rebels for the second time in three weeks in Kazakhstan on Thursday, as diplomats stepped up efforts to lay the groundwork for U.N.-brokered peace talks next week.

A leader of the Russian delegation to the talks in Astana, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, said an agreement has been reached to form a permanent contact group of the three nations to 'preserve and strengthen" a cease-fire that has technically been in place since Dec. 30.

The meeting is intended to pave the way for the revival of broader, U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva next week, but huge challenges remain as both sides criticized each other and...