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Syria

Russia and US agree on need for Syria talks

Moscow and Washington have been trying to patch up their differences over Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have agreed on the need to breathe new life into a peace accord.

The United States and Russia reached agreement on Tuesday to encourage opposing sides in the Syria conflict to find a negotiated solution.

Visiting Moscow, US Secretary of State John Kerry held more than five hours of talks in total with President Vladimir Putin and then with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an effort to find common ground on the issue.

The two powers have repeatedly taken opposing sides on the matter, with Russia - a long-standing arms supplier to Syria - maintaining close links with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow claims Washington has worsened the situation by seeking regime change and siding with the rebels. Meanwhile Western nations have accused Russia of failing to use its influence with Damascus and scuppering efforts to take action against him through the UN Security Council.

However, both sides downplayed their differences in a press conference after the talks.

"We agreed that Russia and the United States will encourage both the Syria government and opposition groups to find a political solution," Lavrov said at a concluding news conference that ended just after midnight.

Lavrov maintained that Russia did not believe the removal of Assad from office should be a precondition for talks, but insisted that Moscow was not propping up the Syrian leader.

"We are not concerned by the fate of any individual. We are concerned by the fate of the Syrian people."

'Over the abyss and into chaos'

There was agreement on the need to implement a plan for a transitional government set out in the Geneva accord, agreed by world powers last June, as soon as possible.

"The alternative is that there is even more violence,” said Kerry. The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos."

Kerry also said there had been a "very productive, very warm and friendly discussion" with Putin in the earlier meeting, which he added "has contributed significantly to our ability to map a road ahead."

Despite agreement on the Geneva accord outside Syria, it has not been adopted in any real sense by either the rebels and the Syrian government.

According to UN estimates, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

rc/jr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)