Kerry, Lavrov meet on Syria conflict

GENEVA, Switzerland (3rd UPDATE) – US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were meeting in Geneva on Friday, August 26, for an expected push towards resuming peace talks for war-ravaged Syria.

They were briefly joined by the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who had said Thursday, August 25, the talks would be "important", and could help his drive to revive the stalled negotiations.

Asked during a break how the meeting was proceeding, Lavrov responded: "Excellent".

De Mistura had voiced hope of bringing the warring parties back to the negotiating table by the end of August, but that deadline looks sure to slip in the face of intense fighting on the ground.

Successive rounds of international negotiations have failed to end a conflict that has killed more than 290,000 people and forced millions from their homes in more than 5 years.

Moscow and Washington support opposite sides in the war, which erupted in March 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a brutal crackdown against a pro-democracy revolt.

Friday's meeting came as the conflict became further complicated by Ankara's decision this week to send tanks into Syria to back rebel fighters.

The Turkish-backed fighters have seized the Syrian border town of Jarabulus from the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq), while Turkish forces have also shelled a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia.

Turkey sees the PYD and YPG militia as terror groups bent on carving out an autonomous region in Syria and acting as the Syrian branch of its own outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Ankara's hostility to the YPG also puts it at loggerheads with its NATO ally the United States, which works with the group on the ground in the fight against ISIS.

Common foe in ISIS

The Russian air force has been carrying out air strikes in Syria since September last year, claiming it only targets extremists.

The West and the Syrian opposition have accused it of hitting civilian targets in rebel-held areas – claims that Moscow denies.

But the US and Russia have a common foe in ISIS, and they have been in contact on efforts to establish military cooperation against the jihadists.

As a possible sign of tightening cooperation, Moscow vowed Thursday to work with the United States on a response after a UN investigation found that the Syrian regime had carried out at least two chemical attacks.

The two countries co-chair a UN-backed humanitarian task force for Syria, which has been struggling to ensure access for desperately-needed aid across the country.

The UN on Friday described the lack of humanitarian access to Syria's besieged areas as "wholly unacceptable", saying just one aid convoy had completed deliveries this month.

According to the United Nations, nearly 600,000 live under siege across Syria, most surrounded by government forces, although rebels and Islamists also use the tactic.

Syria's battered second city Aleppo, which is divided between government and opposition control but surrounded by loyalist forces, has emerged as a top concern.

Russia last week gave its blessing to a long-demanded 48-hour pause in fighting in the northern city to allow in aid, but de Mistura on Thursday accused other unspecified parties of still dragging their feet. –