Zurich: Syria peace talks are expected to begin within a few days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, adding that Moscow was ready to cooperate closer with the United States on Syria aid supplies.
Lavrov, who met his US counterpart John Kerry in Zurich today in a bid to create momentum for Syria peace talks to kick off as planned on January 25, rejected suggestions the negotiations might be delayed until February amid disagreements over who will represent the opposition. "We are sure that in the next few days, in January, these talks should begin," he told reporters.
He stressed though that the United Nations was leading the process and the start date would ultimately be determined by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and his envoy on Syria Staffan De Mistura.
The planned negotiations are meant to help end a conflict that has claimed more than 260,000 lives since it began nearly five years ago. But disagreement over who will represent the opposition has cast a shadow of doubt over whether the UN-brokered talks will begin on schedule. Lavrov meanwhile said today that he and Kerry had discussed the thorny issue of Russia's air strikes in Syria.
He said Moscow was ready to coordinate more closely with the US-led coalition to help facilitate aid deliveries inside the war-torn country. "We spoke about how the Russian airforce, when planning its actions, takes into account the programmes that the UN humanitarian organisations, the Red Cross and other NGOs carry out," Lavrov said.
"We said that we will be ready to more closely coordinate our actions with the American coalition in this direction," he stressed.
Earlier today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Russian air strikes had killed more than 1,000 civilians, including more than 200 children, in Syria since they began in September. Russia is a staunch ally of the Syrian government and has coordinated its strikes with Damascus, saying it is targeting IS and other "terrorist" groups.
But activists and rebels accuse Moscow of focusing more on moderate and Islamist opposition fighters than IS. A coalition led by Washington has also been carrying out strikes against IS in Syria since September 2014, but it does not coordinate its raids with Damascus. Those strikes have killed 4,256 people since they began, among them 322 civilians, including over 90 children, according to the Observatory.