The US and Russian foreign ministers have called for a truce to be agreed prior to a planned second peace conference for Syria. It is still not clear whether opposition groups will attend the talks dubbed "Geneva II."
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who were joined at their meeting in Paris on Monday by United Nations peace envoy Lakhtar Brahimi, said they hoped a number of steps could be implemented prior to the peace conference, to be held in Montreaux, Switzerland on January 22.
"We talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire, maybe a localized ceasefire beginning with Aleppo," Kerry told reporters after their meeting.
Lavrov agreed, saying they planned "to try to send signals to all the Syrian sides on the need for the establishment of a localized ceasefire."
At the same time, though, Lavrov said that this should not be a precondition for the peace conference.
"What can be done before the beginning of the conference should be done," he said.
Lavrov also reiterated Moscow's support for including Iran in the peace talks, a possibility that Kerry didn't rule out, if Tehran agreed to principles set out in the first Syria peace conference, including the creation of a transitional government in the country.
"Iran has yet to state whether or not it supports implementing the Geneva 1 communique," Kerry said. "We would welcome Iran participating if Iran is coming to participate for the purposes of the conference. I invited Iran today to join the community of nations... and be a constructive partner for peace," he added.
Monday's talks followed a meeting in Paris of the "Friends of Syria" on Sunday, in which diplomats from 11 Western and Gulf Arab nations discussed the upcoming Montreaux conference, which has been dubbed "Geneva II" after a previous conference in mid-2012.
Opposition attendance unclear
Following that meeting, the top diplomats, including German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stressed that the long-delayed Geneva II was the only way forward. They also stressed the importance of both sides attending the talks.
The Syrian National Coalition, which is made up of several opposition groups, has delayed voting on the issue until January 17. One of the bloc's main groups - the Syrian National Council - has already said it won't attend, citing a failure by the West to put enough pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to convince him to give up power.
pfd/hc (AFP, Reuters)