Kerry in Moscow to bridge gap with Russia on Syria

 Kerry in Moscow to bridge gap with Russia on Syria

7 May 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry has held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to try to bridge the divide between the two sides over the Syria conflict.

Before the talks, Mr Kerry said Russia and the US shared common interests in promoting stability in the region.

Moscow, which supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, is refusing to back US pressure to force him to step down.

The US recently said it did not rule out arming the Syrian opposition.

"Arming the rebels - that's an option," said US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel last week.

Mr Kerry's visit comes days after Israel launched air strikes in southern Syria.

Russia condemned the attacks - which Israeli sources said targeted missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon - as a threat to regional stability.

President Putin had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Kremlin said.

Chemical weapons

Sarin, an extremely potent chemical nerve agent, is colourless and odourless. The use of chemical weapons is banned by most countries.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was "highly likely" that any use of chemical weapons that had taken place had been carried out by government forces.

Both the US and Israel have described the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict as a "game-changer", which could trigger international military intervention.

'Particular alarm'

Correspondents say it is unlikely that Mr Kerry will be able to change President Putin's stance on Syria.

Moscow genuinely fears that a bad situation will get even worse if President Bashar al-Assad is pushed from power, and that Islamists will fill the void, reports the BBC's Steven Rosenberg in Moscow.

Officials said Israel's air strikes on Syrian army bases at the weekend had "caused particular alarm".

Unconfirmed reports from activists said as many as 42 soldiers had been killed in the attacks near Damascus.

"The further escalation of armed confrontation sharply increases the risk of creating new areas of tension and the destabilisation of the so-far relatively calm atmosphere on the Lebanese-Israeli border," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Israeli security sources said attacks on targets in southern Syria on Sunday were aimed at preventing the transfer of advanced Iranian-made missiles to the Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah, in neighbouring Lebanon.

But observers say the latest developments indicate a significant escalation in Israel's involvement in the conflict.

The Syrian government called the attacks a "flagrant violation of international law", which had made the Middle East "more dangerous" and opened "the door wide to all possibilities".

After his visit to Russia, Mr Kerry will travel to Rome to meet Italian, Israeli and Jordanian officials to discuss Middle East issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.