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Kerry, Lavrov meet for third day on Syria

The US and Russia have begun a third day of talks on Syria. The UN secretary-general said that he expects a confirmation of chemical weapons use in an August 21 attack outside of Damascus.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (right in photo) and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov (left), began their meeting just after 10 a.m. (0800 UCT) in Geneva. Differences remained on Saturday, notably over what deadline should be set for Assad to declare his country's chemical arms stockpile, and the wording of a UN resolution.

In an interview with television station France 24, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted to some doubts on whether Syria would respect a deal. Ban said President Bashar al-Assad had responded "positively" so far, "but at the same time I sense in the international community some sense of skepticism," which, he said, "I also share."

The US and Russia have largely taken opposite sides during the Syrian conflict. A solution hinges on the success of negotiations for Assad's government to give up its chemical weapons stockpile.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama said he had hoped the talks would "bear fruit," but added "any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable."

Further talks

The US and Russia aim to bring together Assad's representatives and the opposition to agree a political transition to end the civil war that grew from a string of public protests against Assad's government in March 2011. Kerry and Lavrov will meet again in two weeks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, with the hope of setting a date for the stalled peace conference.

"I will say on behalf of the United States that President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria and we know that Russia is likewise. We are working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen," Kerry said of Friday's peace talks. "We discussed some of the homework that we both need to do."

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (center in photo) called a negotiated plan "extremely important in itself and for itself, but it is also extremely important for us who are working with you on trying to bring together the Geneva conference successfully."

'Crimes against humanity'

Syria has filed documents at the UN to join the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons. A UN spokesman said Friday that the OPCW had asked Syria for more information about its application, but he declined to say what was missing from the documents filed.

UN Secretary-General Ban has not assigned blame to regime forces for the August 21 attack, but he acknowledged that Assad "has committed many crimes against humanity." The attack killed about 1,400 people, Ban said, adding that there must be "accountability" once the war is over.

"I believe that the report will be an overwhelming, overwhelming report that chemical weapons [were] used even though I cannot publicly say at this time before I receive this report," Ban said.

Fueling further concerns about Assad's sincerity, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that a secret military unit had begun scattering Syria's chemical weapons stockpile around the country.

mkg/msh (AFP, dpa, AP)