US, Russia to hold Syria talks in Geneva next week

UN spokeswoman says powers set to meet to discuss peace meeting.

Free Syrian Army fighters in Mleha suburb of Damascus 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
Free Syrian Army fighters in Mleha suburb of Damascus 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
GENEVA - Senior US and Russian officials will meet the international mediator on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss a peace conference, a UN spokeswoman said on Friday.
"Any talk, any discussion is a positive sign," UN spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian told a news briefing in the Swiss city, where a previous round of talks was held on June 5.
An international peace conference aimed at ending the conflict in Syria, first muted in June or July, is unlikely to take place before August after G8 leaders clashed with Russia over the nature of a transitional government.
With Russia and Iran arming Syrian President Bashar Assad's government forces, and Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters joining the war on his behalf, Western powers have agreed in the last week to step up aid to the mainly Sunni rebels, who were driven out of the strategic town of Qusair, north of Damascus.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday defended Russian arms deals with Assad's government and said the West should not send weapons to rebel forces that include "terrorist" groups.
"If the United States ... recognizes one of the key Syrian opposition organizations, al-Nusra, as terrorist ... how can one deliver arms to those opposition members?" Putin said during a panel appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Russian economic forum. "Where will (those weapons) end up? What role will they play?"
Foreign ministers of the Friends of Syria group of nations, which backs the opposition, are to meet in Qatar on Saturday to discuss ways to help the rebel Free Syrian Army defend the northern city of Aleppo.