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John Kerry, Russian official to meet on Syria

GENEVA — Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, will meet next week to discuss Syria, according to a statement released by the United Nations on Tuesday, after senior Russian, US, and UN officials meeting in Geneva failed to make headway on plans for a peace conference.

Plans for the Kerry-Lavrov meeting provided the only concrete detail to come out of more than five hours of talks between Wendy R. Sherman, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs; two Russian deputy foreign ministers, Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov; and the UN special representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

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The terse statement issued at the end of their meeting said that Russia, the United States, and the United Nations would consult further to determine the date of a conference and complete the list of participants. Gatilov told journalists that these were among the questions on which they had failed to agree. Sherman, who was due to join the Russian officials for informal talks over dinner, made no comment.

Before the meeting started, Brahimi said he doubted any conference could take place in July and expressed hope that the major powers and regional powers would act to contain a conflict that was “getting out of hand.”

Tuesday’s meeting only went over in detail the points raised at a round of talks earlier this month, according to an official in contact with those at the meeting but not authorized to comment publicly. The issue of who attends the conference has proved a sticking point, with the United States opposed to participation by Iran. A thornier problem is the role, if any, of President Bashar Assad of Syria.

Both sides agreed the peace conference should lead to the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers over all institutions of state, but the United States interprets that to mean a full transfer of powers from Assad. Russia, however, has insisted that only Syrians can decide his role.

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, in a news conference Monday, sought to dispel any idea that Assad’s position was open to debate. The goal of any Geneva meeting would be to form a government of national unity, he said.

“We head to Geneva not to hand over power to another side,” he added.

But prospects for convening any conference looked remote in the face of the rigid positions held by parties fighting a civil war in Syria with undiminished ferocity.

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