Russia casts doubt on possible Dec. 18 Syria meeting in New York

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2015 8:05 PM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia's U.N. envoy cast doubt on Tuesday on U.S. plans to hold a third meeting of world powers on Syria next week, saying the process to try to end the four-year civil war would be devalued if certain requirements were not met first.

Following two meetings in Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday the aim was to hold a third round of talks in New York on Dec. 18, although that could hinge on efforts to unite Syrian opposition groups.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that before a third meeting could be held, a list of "terrorist organizations" in Syria needed to be agreed on, along with a list of opposition groups to participate in talks with the Syrian government.

"We don't think the situation is ready yet, I don't rule it out ... but we have not seen those requirements that I have just outlined being met and we are not sure when they are going to be met," Churkin told reporters.

"In our view to have one meeting after another without implementing the agreements which were reached previously within the Vienna format is probably going to devalue the Vienna format," he said. "We think that now we need to focus on the substance rather than setting another meeting."

Russia, the United States, European and Middle Eastern countries agreed in Vienna last month on a two-year timeline leading to Syrian elections, but left many questions unresolved, most notably the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The countries involved in the talks, which also include Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, laid out a plan including formal talks between the government and opposition starting in January.

To achieve that timeline, Saudi Arabia is hosting a conference this week to try to unite Syria's divided rebel and opposition groups, which are trying to forge a common platform to be able to negotiate with the Syrian government.

Churkin said Russia believed U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura should be taking the lead on bringing together the Syrian opposition.

Churkin also said Russia was working with the United States to draft a "big resolution on fighting terrorism" and the aim was for the 15-member U.N. Security Council to adopt the text on Dec. 17 at a council meeting of finance ministers, which will be chaired by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney)