Russia: Syria Peace Talks Pushed Back

Russia: Syria Peace Talks Pushed Back

MOSCOW (AP) -- The next round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva has been pushed back for late February, Russia's foreign minister announced Friday without explaining what's behind the postponement.

The U.N.-mediated talks in Switzerland, previously set for Feb. 8, will instead take place by the end of the month, Sergey Lavrov said in opening a mini-summit in Moscow with state-approved representatives of the Syrian opposition.

Syrian rebel factions fighting to oust President Bashar Assad had declined an invitation to attend, raising doubts the Moscow meeting could offer anything beyond another Syria discussion panel.

However, some of the rebel groups fighting in Syria were represented at talks this week in Kazakhstan, brokered by Russia and Turkey and aimed at shoring up a shaky Dec. 30 cease-fire with Assad's forces.

Those talks, which brought the armed rebel factions face-to-face with Assad's representatives for the first time, ended Tuesday with an agreement among Russia, Turkey and Iran — all with forces deployed to the war-torn Mideast nation — to consolidate the truce, take joint action against extremist groups and jumpstart peace negotiations.

The Kazakhstan talks were also supposed to prepare the way for the revival of the Geneva peace process, which stalled last April.

In a move certain to rattle Turkey, representatives of Syria's leading Kurdish party attended the Moscow gathering on Friday. Turkey is waging a low-grade war against the Democratic Union Party in Syria, which Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency with its own borders.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Kurdish participation in the Geneva process is "necessary."

According to Kurdish adviser Nasser Haj Mansour, two Syrian Kurdish representatives at the Moscow gathering — Khaled Issa and Rody Othman — presented Lavrov on Friday with a plan for a federalized Syria, which would diminish Assad's authority over the country and bolster the Kurds' gains in northern Syria.

The federalization proposal has in the past been rejected by Syrian rebels and Damascus, as well as Turkey, which is seeking to keep Syrian Kurds and their growing influence in check.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said that Russia has also floated a draft proposal for a future Syrian constitution in a bid to encourage debate — not as an attempt to enforce Moscow's will on the Syrians.

"We made an attempt in the draft to put together some common elements we heard from representatives of the government and the opposition," Lavrov said.

In the Kazakh capital of Astana, Syrian rebels factions had refused to discuss the draft.

"We did not even lift the paper off the table," said rebel legal adviser and spokesman Osama Abo Zayd.