LONDON -- U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his Russian counterpart said Friday that they would try by the end of the month to set a date for another international peace conference on Syria, even as they continued to negotiate a possible solution to the Syrian government’s possession of chemical weapons.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that a date for a second peace conference in Geneva, to follow up on one held in the Swiss city last year, could be decided in the margins of a U.N. General Assembly meeting scheduled to be held at the end of this month.
The first Geneva conference, in June 2012, produced a tentative transition plan for the Syrian government that has largely come to naught as fighting rages between the forces of President Bashar Assad and rebels who want to overthrow his repressive regime.
Leaders from around the world have pushed for a second conference, insisting that only a negotiated political settlement can end the civil war, but attempts to convene a sequel have so far been unsuccessful.
Diplomatic momentum over Syria, however, has received a major boost within the past few days in light of the threat of a U.S.-led airstrike against Damascus to punish it for its alleged role in Aug. 21 chemical weapons attacks near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people.
Kerry and Lavrov raised the prospect of a second peace conference Friday during the second day of hastily arranged talks, also in Geneva, to hammer out a plan to impound Syria’s chemical arsenal, neutralize it and put it out of reach of the government and the anti-Assad rebels.
Western governments remain skeptical about the idea, because of its technical challenges and their suspicion concerning Assad’s sincerity in cooperating. But they have agreed to pursue it with Russia, the plan’s primary sponsor.
A major sticking point is whether the disarmament plan can be backed up by force, which the West wants to see but which Russia opposes.
“President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria, and we know that Russia is likewise. We are working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen,” Kerry said. “And we discussed some of the homework that we both need to do.”
Lavrov called on the international community “to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as [is] practical.”