Russian foreign minister backs renewal of UN-led Syria talks

MOSCOW: Russia supports the continuation of talks on the Syrian crisis under United Nations auspices, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
In an interview published on the ministry’s website on Sunday, Lavrov said international talks on Syria that took place in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana in January were a “breakthrough step” in efforts to resolve the crisis.
The format of Astana talks between representatives of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and opposition groups, however, should not replace the Geneva talks led by UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, Lavrov said.
The next round of Geneva talks have been scheduled for February 20, diplomats told reporters last Tuesday.
They had been planned to begin on February 8, but Lavrov said last week that they had been postponed.
The minister also reiterated Moscow’s stance on relations with new US President Donald Trump.
Lavrov said the two countries were in a position to solve bilateral issues, improve ties and coordinate efforts to fight “international terrorism”, but only on the basis of mutual respect.
Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said that safe zones would not work inside Syria for people fleeing the country’s nearly six-year-old war.
Donald Trump said last week he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for refugees escaping violence and that Europe had made a mistake by admitting millions of refugees.
“Frankly, I don’t see in Syria the conditions” to create successful safe zones, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said at a news conference in Beirut.
“With the fragmentation, the number of actors, the presence of terrorist groups, it’s not the right place to think of that solution,” he added.
In a meeting with Grandi last Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said earlier that world powers must work with the Damascus government to create safe zones in Syria so refugees can return to their country. At least a million Syrians have fled since 2011 into Lebanon, which has an estimated total population of less than six million.
The war has divided Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by Assad, various rebel groups, Kurdish militia and IS militants.
According to a document seen by Reuters, Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and the State Department to craft a plan for the safe zones, a move that could ratchet up US military involvement in Syria.
Policing them could prove difficult in a war zone dotted with armed groups.
The UN refugee chief, who had just completed a visit to Syria, said his agency had not been approached about the plans and there were no details on what would constitute a safe zone or how it would be enforced. “Let’s not waste time planning safe zones that will not be set up because they will not be safe enough for people to go back,” Grandi said. — Reuters