PARIS — The top U.S. and Russian diplomats met Monday to try to accelerate frustratingly slow peace efforts in Syria, where the signs point only to a worsening conflict.
Capping off an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Africa, Secretary of State John Kerry flew into the French capital to see Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and exchange updates on their respective diplomatic efforts.
The United States and its Arab allies are attempting to secure the participation of Syria’s fractured opposition at an international peace conference in Geneva, planned for next month. Russia is pledging to deliver Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime to the talks.
But despite claims of progress by both powers, there is little evidence to suggest either side in Syria is ready to halt more than two years of violence that has killed more than 70,000 people. President Barack Obama has demanded that Assad leave power; Russia has stood by its closest ally in the Arab world.
Kerry said the U.S. and Russia each are committed to starting a political transition that “would allow the people of Syria to decide the future of Syria.”
Lavrov suggested much work remains if any peace conference is going to make headway, calling it a “very tall order.” He also signaled continued disagreement between Washington and Moscow on the participants at the conference, saying it should include more interested parties than previous diplomatic gatherings. It was an apparent reference to Iran, which the United States and the Syrian opposition don’t want to see involved in any negotiation.
The one-on-one Paris meeting between Kerry and Lavrov, to be immediately followed by a dinner that includes French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, occurred as Sen. John McCain slipped into Syria Monday to meet with rebels, and at an increasingly dangerous time for the country.
For the past week, regime troops and allies from Lebanon’s Hezbollah — and even some Iranians — have waged an offensive in Qusair, gaining ground against the rebels.