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Russia Invites Trump Officials to Syria Talks, Lavrov Says

Jan. 18, 2017 (EIRNS)—Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said representatives of the incoming U.S. administration have been invited to participate in the Syria talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, expected to begin on Jan. 23.

Speaking at a news conference on Jan. 17, posted on the Foreign Ministry's website, Lavrov said it was "right to invite representatives of the UN and the new U.S. administration" to the Astana talks, but did not say whether the incoming Trump administration had confirmed its attendance

"We're counting on the new [U.S.] administration accepting this invitation and being represented by experts on any level they consider possible. It will be the first official contact during which we could begin discussing stepping up the efficiency of fighting terrorism in Syria,"

Lavrov said. "One of the objectives of the meeting in Astana is first of all to consolidate the cease-fire."

Lavrov's remarks came one day after he talked to the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, and Kazakhstan, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, Javad Zarif, and Kairat Abdrakhmanov, respectively, regarding the peace talks in Astana.

According to a report in Syria's Al-Watan daily, Syria's UN ambassador would head the government delegation to the talks, while chief rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction, would represent the opposition, according to National Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan, Agence France Presse reported.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Jan. 18 in an interview with the Lebanese broadcaster al-Mayadeen. Damascus had no objections to the presence of U.S. representatives at the Astana. However, Mekdad stressed that Washington "will have to prove its sincerity about settling the Syrian crisis."

Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamhani said his country opposed the U.S. participation, that there were "absolutely no grounds" for the U.S. participation in the talks. Nonetheless, he admitted that "there is a possibility that the host country [Kazakhstan] will invite the U.S. to Astana as an observer."

Meanwhile, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Jan. 16 that the European Union wanted to host a conference on the reconstruction of Syria in tandem with the United Nations. She told the Associated Press that the conference would come after the planned restart of the Geneva peace talks and "could be a moment for the international community to turn the page and start the reconstruction of Syria."