US and Russia agree to press UN to set date for Syrian peace conference

Monday 07 October 2013 23.20
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Almost seven million people require urgent assistance to meet their basic needs
Almost seven million people require urgent assistance to meet their basic needs
More than two million people have fled the conflict in Syria
More than two million people have fled the conflict in Syria

The United States and Russia have agreed to press the United Nations to set a date for a Syria peace conference for the second week of November.

US Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement today after talks with his Russian counterpart.

"We will urge a date to be set as soon as possible," Mr Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Kerry also said the start of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria was a "good beginning".

In unusual praise for Syria, he said the government should be given credit for complying with a recent UN resolution to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

"I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road but it is a good beginning and we should welcome a good beginning," he said.

Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov met at a resort on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Bali, Indonesia, where they signed an agreement on nuclear risk reduction centres in Washington and Moscow, first created in 1987 to facilitate verification of arms control treaties and agreements.

The foreign ministers met first with aides and then privately where they discussed ways to end Syria's civil war and upcoming talks with Iran on ending a dispute over its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Kerry characterised his meeting with Mr Lavrov as "one of the most productive we have had", saying they spoke at length about ways to bring warring parties in Syria together for talks in Geneva, known as Geneva 2.

"We agreed again there is no military solution here and we share an interest in not having radical extremists on either side assuming a greater position in Syria, and that is why we re-committed today very specific efforts to move the Geneva process as rapidly as possible," Mr Kerry said.

He said both sides would seek to "lay the groundwork for around of talks".

"It is our mutual hope that that can happen in November and we are both intent and determined in consultations with our friends in these efforts to try to make certain this can happen in November," Mr Kerry said.

"A final date and terms of participation will have to be determined by the United Nations."

A team of international experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and personnel from the UN began destroying Syria's chemical gas arsenal yesterday.

It follows an agreement hammered out between the US and Russia after a deadly 21 August chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which prompted US threats of air strikes against the Syrian government.

The elimination of the chemical weapons is expected to continue until at least mid-2014.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's conflict, which began in early 2011 with peaceful demonstrations seeking more democracy but deteriorated into a sectarian civil war.

Govt pledges €3m in assistance for Syria

Elsewhere, the Government has announced additional funding of €3m in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict in Syria.

It brings Ireland's total contribution to the international humanitarian response to almost €14m.

Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello announced the funding in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where he is visiting a camp hosting some of the 780,000 refugees who have fled to Lebanon since the outbreak of violence in Syria.

The funding announcement comes as UNICEF Ireland warned "of predictions of another viciously cold winter in Syria and surrounding regions".

A delegation from the aid agency has completed a visit to Zaatari camp in Jordan, which is now home to 120,000 people, making it the second largest refugee camp in the world.

Unicef Ireland said children "continue to pay the price of conflict with their health, their education and their lives".

Last month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees described the conflict in Syria as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War.

Almost seven million people require urgent assistance to meet their basic needs.

More than two million people have fled to neighbouring countries.