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Russia says too early to confirm Syria talks in New York


220px-Bashar_al-Assad_(cropped)Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday said it was too early to confirm a new round of international talks on ending the war in Syria that were expected in New York later this month.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week announced fresh negotiations on Syria and diplomats said that they were likely to be held on December 18.

But Russia — a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad — said that a failure by participants to make progress on lists of rebel groups considered “terrorists” and who should represent the opposition in talks meant that is was “premature” to announce talks for that date.

“Not having a collective understanding of who in Syria is a terrorist and who is an opposition member, it is impossible to hold talks on the internal Syrian political process or on such an important and urgent matter as the ceasefire,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We don’t need to hold a meeting just for the sake of meeting.”

Diplomats from 17 countries have held two meetings in Vienna to agree on a roadmap to end the nearly five-year war in Syria that has left 250,000 dead and triggered a refugee crisis in Europe.

The international talks bringing together for the first time key players Russia, the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia mark the most significant push to date for a settlement.

There had been concerns a row between Russia and Turkey over the downing of a Russian fighter plane could have jeopardised the process, but Ban’s announcement had been seen as a sign that peace talks were still on track.

At the last meeting on November 14, countries agreed on a path to elections in 18 months and a political transition within six months.

Major differences remain between the powers at the Vienna table over the fate of Assad, with Russia and Iran refusing to support Western calls for him to step down.

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