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Kerry says US, Russia committed to Syria conference

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the United States and Russia were committed to holding a peace conference on Syria but that it would likely take place after August.

Kerry, speaking after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a security meeting in Brunei, said "we both agree that the conference should happen sooner rather than later" to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian war.

But he said that the conference, originally planned for June, could not happen this month due to US-Russian meetings and that "August is very difficult for Europeans and others," a likely reference to summer vacations.

"It may be somewhere thereafter," he said of the timing of the conference.

Kerry was finishing up a 12-day tour in which he tried to coordinate support among Sunni Arab states and Europeans for rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that has claimed about 100,000 lives since March 2011.

Russia and Iran are the main international supporters of Assad, a secular ruler who belongs to the Alawite sect.

Kerry said that he and Lavrov shared the view of the last Geneva conference in June 2012 that the best solution for Syria was a political transition, with the regime and the opposition each picking members of a transitional government.

"We agreed that we are both serious, more than serious, committed to the Geneva process," he said.

The diplomatic solution is at odds with that of US-allied monarchies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have pressed for the defeat of Assad.

Kerry previously called for more support to rebels to level the field, arguing that Assad would not come to the table if he sees victories on the ground.

The talks were the first between the United States and Russia sine President Barack Obama's administration last month decided to step up aid to the rebels.

The administration made the decision after US officials concluded that Assad used chemical weapons, crossing a red line set by Obama.

But Obama has resisted pressure from more hawkish lawmakers and aides for a greater US military role, doubting the wisdom of fully entering the increasingly sectarian conflict.

Kerry said Tuesday that a "military victory per se" was not the way to keep together "Syria as a country".

"We have an obligation to work towards a peaceful resolution, because a peaceful settlement is the best way to save the state of Syria and minimise the destruction," Kerry said.

"That commitment remains a solid one between both of us," he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and officials on the ground for its information, said last week the death toll from the civil war had surpassed 100,000 people.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130702/kerry-says-us-russia-committed-syria-conference-0