Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shake hands with peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Moscow on December 29, 2012
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shake hands with UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as they arrive for talks in Moscow, on December 29, 2012. The second round of Russia-US consultations on Syria involving Brahimi will be held in Geneva on Friday, Moscow's top negotiator in the talks said Wednesday. © Kirill Kudryavtsev - AFP/File
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shake hands with peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Moscow on December 29, 2012
Last updated: January 9, 2013

New Russia-US Syria talks with Brahimi due Friday

Moscow and Washington's pointmen on Syria will meet global mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva on Friday for fresh talks, Russia's Middle East negotiator said on Wednesday.

Often referred to as "The Three Bs," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, US Undersecretary of State William Burns and UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi have taken an increasingly central role in the search for an end to the 22-month-old conflict.

The last round of consultations in December resulted in leaked reports of a joint Russia-US initiative on moving toward a transition government that the armed opposition could embrace.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed while hosting Brahimi at the end of December that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had told the mediator he had no intention of stepping down.

Brahimi later claimed to have the outlines of a peace initiative that he said all sides could subscribe to, aimed at ending the bloodshed that the United Nations estimates has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

Moscow has been under intense pressure to urge the leadership of its Middle East ally to accept a face-saving agreement that would see the rebels assume gradual command.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on two occasions last month that Moscow was not propping up Assad's government while Bogdanov himself told one conference that the regime's days now seemed numbered.

Those comments fell much closer in line with the Western and Arab view of the violence, suggesting a softening of Russia's position and even more political damage for Assad.

But Moscow showed its hard side on Wednesday, with the foreign ministry saying it felt a rare address Assad delivered on Friday -- one ridiculed for its ignorance of reality by both the rebels and Washington -- should be treated with more attention.

Russia said a political solution should be based on a transition plan agreed by world powers in June but never implemented because of the fighting, "and several ideas voiced by Syrian President Assad."

Analysts have recently questioned the actual sway the Kremlin has over Assad.

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