Russia peace conference gets cool reception
MOSCOW - Russia on Tuesday denied postponing a Syria peace conference while not confirming an earlier announced date of November 18, after the plan gained a cool reception from rebel backer Turkey and its Western allies.
"This congress is being prepared now," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday.
"No one has postponed it because the date of the congress has not been officially announced," he added.
Russia pledged during talks in Kazakhstan last week to bring the Syrian regime and its opponents together for a "congress" to push peace efforts in the city of Sochi on November 18.
Then on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the Kremlin had told Ankara it was postponing the event.
Lavrov in Russia's first public reaction since then said Moscow was in touch with Turkey, Iran, the Gulf nations and other countries to determine the conference's agenda and date.
He said Moscow was also in contact with the Syrian government and a range of opposition forces as well as the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
Lavrov said some opposition groups had refused to hold negotiations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, but added that the "feedback is rather positive."
Russia last week unveiled its initiative to bring the Syrian regime and its opponents to the negotiating table in Sochi after peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana failed to gain much traction.
The Astana talks have run in parallel to negotiations held in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations.
The fate of Assad remains a huge stumbling block, preventing global players from reaching a peace settlement over Syria.
Lavrov said Tuesday that global players should redouble efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the six-year war as the Syrian regime edges closer to victory after a string of Islamic State group losses.
"As far as the Syrian conflict is concerned, the political process is becoming ever more important," he said.
"The fight against terror in Syria is coming to an end. There shouldn't be any breaks in the efforts of the international community."