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US secretary of state John Kerry (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov speak at their joint press conference in Moscow.
US secretary of state John Kerry (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov speak at their joint press conference in Moscow.

Kerry returns to Mideast to advance peace plans

The United States secretary of state is heading back to the region to press his case for Syrian peace talks.

WASHINGTON // The United States secretary of state is heading back to the Middle East to press his case for Syrian peace talks.

John Kerry was hoping to bring the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, and the rebels to the table amid increasing signs the new US strategy to halt the war is being undermined by Russia.

Mr Kerry was scheduled to hold talks with the sultan of Oman in Muscat today before travelling to Jordan for a meeting with 10 of America's closest European and Arab partners. They were to discuss how to advance a political transition and end more than two years of bloodshed in Syria.

For the Syria negotiations to succeed, the Obama administration is banking on Russia's help.

The US and Russia have wrangled repeatedly while more than 70,000 Syrians have died, but they now said they were working together to start direct talks between Syria's government and the opposition in Geneva in June. Washington has demanded Mr Al Assad's removal, while Russia has continued to provide the Syrian leader with military aid and diplomatic cover.

But the US president, Barack Obama, this week said the meeting "may yield results".

Mr Kerry's week-long trip will also involve him trying to advance his two-month effort to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The secretary convinced the Arab world to sweeten its deal of universal recognition for the Jewish state if Israel pulled out of most of the territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank that it conquered in 1967. But he has struggled so far to gain any public concession from Israel, which was accused of taking steps last week to legalise four unauthorised settlements in the West Bank.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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