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Wed Feb 27, 2013, 12:25 PM

Are the US and Russia bridging their divide over Syria? (CS Monitor)

Are the US and Russia bridging their divide over Syria?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry came out of their Berlin meeting sounding optimistic, in contrast to recent discord in the US-Russia relationship.

By Fred Weir, Correspondent / February 27, 2013

Moscow

After a surprisingly positive first meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Berlin Tuesday, Russian experts say they're hopeful that a real opportunity has opened up to pressure the Bashar al-Assad regime and Syria's fractured rebel movement to come to the bargaining table and discuss a negotiated end to the stalemated civil war that has killed around 70,000 people in the past two years.

After a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to Moscow on Monday, the Russians insist they have firm assurances that the Syrian government has a negotiating team in place and is ready to sit down with opponents, even armed rebels, to discuss a transitional government. They say the onus is now on the US and its allies to bring pressure on the main Syrian rebel groups who will be gathering together at a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome on Thursday to accept that the only way to stop the bloodshed and end the impasse is to sit down with at least elements of the Assad regime and hammer out a political way forward.

"I think it's clear that Russia can deliver the Assad regime on this point, and bring them to the table for talks with the rebels," says Andrei Baklitsky, an expert with the PIR Center, an independent Moscow-based security think tank.

"Russian diplomacy has been pretty consistent on the need for such talks and Moscow is ready to do its part. But I would think it's the US that has a problem here. If Washington is going to change its approach, and come out in favor of negotiations, it may find itself unable to bring the rebels to the table. The Syrian rebels are very fragmented, have little common ground, and some of them are completely intransigent. Some of them didn't even want to go to Rome, to sit down with their friends, much less engage in talks with the Assad regime," he says.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/0227/Are-the-US-and-Russia-bridging-their-divide-over-Syria?nav=87-frontpage-entryLeadStory

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