UN cannot confirm postponement of Syria talks
NEW YORK CITY - The timing of Geneva talks on the Syrian conflict was thrown into doubt on Friday, as the UN said it could not confirm a Russian statement that they had been postponed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a meeting with minor Syrian opposition delegates in Moscow that the UN-hosted talks planned for February 8 had been "put back until the end of next month".
The news comes after negotiations between Syrian government and rebel representatives in Kazakhstan wrapped up on Tuesday without any tangible progress in finding a political solution to the war in Syria, which has claimed more than 310,000 lives since it started in 2011.
A spokeswoman for UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura said there was "no confirmation" the February talks had been postponed.
"We're going to be sure when the special envoy is back" from talks on the issue in New York next week with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci also said that the list of those invited to the Geneva talks has not been finalised.
Key players Russia, Turkey and Iran backed the Astana talks and the main result was an agreement by the three sides to try to shore up a shaky ceasefire on the ground in the war-torn country.
Representatives from Damascus and the armed rebels had been expected to hold their first face-to-face talks in the Kazakh capital, but the rebels refused and mediators had to shuttle between the two sides.
The latest peace initiative comes after President Bashar al-Assad's regime, with the help of Russian and Iranian firepower, dealt rebels a crushing blow by ousting them from eastern Aleppo last month.
The main opposition groups stayed away from Friday's meeting in Moscow with Lavrov, as the Kremlin seeks to impose its influence as the key powerbroker in Syria.
Russia has sidelined the West with its diplomatic push to find a political settlement to the war in Syria, after its military intervention to support Assad turned the tables on the battlefield.
On Thursday Britain, one of the harshest critics of Moscow's actions in Syria, signalled a possible policy shift, with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson saying Assad could be allowed to run for re-election and mentioning a possible "arrangement" with Russia.