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Kerry says Russia talks made progress on Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the media regarding his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (not pic
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the media regarding his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (not pic

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had made progress on plans to hold a Syria peace conference and that both sides had agreed it should be held soon.

"There are still things that have to be worked out over the course of these next days, but Foreign Minister Lavrov and I felt that this meeting was a very useful meeting, it was constructive and productive," Kerry told reporters in Brunei, where he is attending an Asian regional security meeting.

"We narrowed down some of the options with respect to the potential of that conference. We both agreed that that conference should happen sooner rather than later," he said, adding that the conference would likely take place after August.

Washington and Moscow announced plans for the peace conference in May, but their relations have since deteriorated rapidly as momentum on the battlefield has swung in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Obama administration decided last month to supply military aid to the rebels fighting Assad, while Moscow refused to drop its support for the Syrian leader it has continued to arm. Kerry has been on a whirlwind tour of Arab-speaking nations to try to coordinate aid to the rebels.

The point of the peace conference was to revive a plan adopted at meeting on Syria last year in Geneva. At that time, Washington and Moscow agreed on the need for a transitional Syrian government, but left open the question of whether Assad could participate in the process.

The United States, like the Syrian rebels, says Assad and his family should play no role in a transitional government. Russia says there should be no conditions on the talks.

Washington has opposed including Iran in the talks amid continuing disagreement about its disputed nuclear program.

While the United States and its European and Arab allies are seeking to convince rebels to attend the conference, Russia's role is to bring government officials to the table.

Kerry said that Russia and the United States were in agreement that no matter which side had the upper hand on the battleground, the peace conference would seek a transfer of power to an interim government.

He said both he and Lavrov were "more than serious" and committed to the Geneva process. "We both agreed that our countries will...be able to pull together in that effort," Kerry said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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