Pressure mounts on Syria rivals for talks
The parties to the Syrian war came under intense international pressure yesterday to open direct talks to end their two-year conflict, on the eve of a Rome meeting of the Friends of Syria group.
The main opposition National Coalition, meanwhile, was preparing for a weekend gathering in Istanbul to elect a prime minister and government to run parts of the country "liberated" by rebel fighters.
Initially at odds over Syria, Washington and Moscow on Tuesday sought to find common ground to end the bloodshed in a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia, the most powerful supporter of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, this week urged his regime to start a dialogue with the opposition to end the conflict that has cost at least 70,000 lives since it began in March 2011.
After their nearly two-hour meeting in Berlin, Lavrov called on the opposition to "declare itself in favour of dialogue" when it meets various Western leaders, including Kerry, at the crunch talks in Rome today.
Describing his meeting with Kerry as "constructive," Lavrov said Syrian regime officials had "assured" Moscow that they "have a negotiating team and are ready to start dialogue as soon as possible".
He called on the opposition also to name a negotiating team.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post said the White House was considering a major policy shift to supply rebels with "non-lethal" aid including body armour, armoured vehicles and perhaps even military training, in a report citing US and European officials.
Citing unnamed US and Western officials, The New York Times reported late Monday that the Saudi-financed "large purchase of infantry weapons" was part of an "undeclared surplus" of arms left over from the Balkan wars in the 1990s and that they began reaching anti-regime fighters via Jordan in December.
That was when many Yugoslav weapons started showing up in YouTube videos posted by rebels, it said.