World leaders are hedging their bets on whether they will find agreement in discussions about a possible political transition in Syria. The talks are set to get under way in Geneva.
US and Russian leaders met in St. Petersburg on Friday to see if they could make any progress in discussing Syria's future on the eve of Saturday's talks between world powers in Geneva.
"We have a very good chance to find common ground at the conference in Geneva tomorrow," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the meeting.
While Lavrov seemed hopeful, he also warned against expectations that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Russia, China, France, Britain, and US, and the Arab League would come to a final agreement.
American officials also seemed less than optimistic after the talks attended by Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
"There are still areas of difficulty and difference," a US State Department official told Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity.
Some reports said Saturday's talks were nearly cancelled as a result of Russia's demands.
Russia was demanding changes to a new plan for a political transition in Syria, drawn up by international envoy Kofi Annan.
Annan is seeking support for a proposal that does not explicitly stipulate that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down but calls for a unity government that would exclude figures who jeopardize stability.
The plan proposes a Syrian-led transition and "rapid steps" leading to a political settlement in the 16-month war-torn country.
Lavrov warned on Friday against expectations of a political transition in Syria. Diplomats said Moscow does not want any formulations that refer to al-Assad stepping down.
Despite the last-minute wrangling, Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said he was "optimistic" that there would be an agreement on Saturday.
Syrian rebels have warned they will not accept any transition plan that keeps al-Assad in power.
Meanwhile, Syrian troops continued their push against a rebellious suburb of Damascus on Friday, killing dozens. The conflict between Syrian rebels and al-Assad's forces has been raging for 15 months.
tm/slk (dpa, Reuters)