Middle East

US and Russia 'making progress' on Syria peace talks

Sergei Lavrov shakes hands with John Kerry in Brunei (2 July 2013)
Image caption The conference being organised by Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry has been delayed repeatedly

The US and Russia have made progress on plans to convene a conference to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has said.

"We narrowed down some of the options," Mr Kerry told reporters after attending an Asian regional security meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

The meeting in Geneva might not take place until August or later, he added.

On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was essential that the conference be held as soon as possible.

"There is an urgent need for the violence to end. Far too many lives have been lost already and the conflict has generated a huge and heart-rending humanitarian crisis," Ban Ki-moon said.

Mr Ban said the US-Russian initiative offered the "best chance for a lasting solution", and urged the international community to "fully commit".

Homs offensive

In May, Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov announced that they would work together to convince both the Syrian government and opposition to accept a solution based on the core elements of the final communique issued on 30 June 2012, after the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting.

The communique called for an immediate cessation of violence and the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials currently serving under President Bashar al-Assad and members of the opposition.

However, the conference has been delayed repeatedly, and talks are continuing on who should participate, how it should be structured and what should be discussed.

The UN says more than 93,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million people have fled to neighbouring countries since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

"The people of Syria want peace and hope. Yet all they see is death upon death. All they hear is talks after talks," Mr Ban said. "I once again call on all those with influence to hear the cry of the Syrian people and the call of history: act and act now."

Also on Monday, Gulf Arab states called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to prevent what they said was the threat of a massacre in the city of Homs.

They said they were particularly worried about reports of members from the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah, once again fighting alongside government forces, who launched a major new offensive on rebels in Homs on Saturday.