US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say that prospects for a resumption in the Syrian peace process are riding on the outcome of US-Russian talks aimed at securing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
As American and Russian chemical weapons experts huddled in a Geneva hotel to haggle over technical details that will be critical to reach a deal, Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov met with UN-Arab League envoy Lakdar Brahimi to examine political developments and plot a new international conference to support the creation of Syrian transitional government.
Mr Kerry, flanked by Mr Lavrov and Mr Brahimi, told reporters at the UN in Geneva after an hour-long meeting on the second day of their talks that the chances for a second peace conference in Geneva "will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here ... on the subject of the chemical weapons."
Mr Brahimi also met privately with Mr Kerry at a Geneva hotel on Thursday to explore ways to resume international negotiations last held in Geneva in June 2012 aimed at ending the Syrian civil war. Mr Lavrov said it was "very unfortunate that for a long time that the Geneva communique was basically abandoned."
Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov announced they would meet again in New York toward the end of the month to try to fix a date for second conference.
When the talks began on Thursday, Mr Kerry bluntly rejected a Syrian pledge to begin a "standard process" by turning over information rather than weapons - and nothing immediately. He that was not acceptable. "The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough," Mr Kerry declared as he stood beside Mr Lavrov. "This is not a game."
The talks were the latest in a rapidly moving series of events following the August 21 gas attack on suburbs in Damascus. The US blames Syrian President Bashar Assad for the use of chemical weapons, although Mr Assad denies his government was involved and instead points to rebels engaged in a two-year-old civil war against his government.
President Barack Obama is seeking authority from Congress for a limited strike on Syria but is now considering a Russian proposal calling for international control of Mr Assad's chemical weapons and their eventual destruction. Mr Obama dispatched Mr Kerry to Geneva to hammer out the details of the proposal even as he kept alive the possibility of US military action.
"We believe there is nothing standard about this process at this moment because of the way the regime has behaved," Mr Kerry said on the opening day of talks. The turnover of weapons must be complete, verifiable and timely, he said, "and, finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place."
As the talks continued, the international human rights group, Human Rights Watch, accused Syrian government forces and pro-regime militias of carrying out summary executions in May this year that left at least 248 people dead in two predominantly Sunni Muslim towns along Syria's Mediterranean coast.