Russia, U.S. Deny Date Set for Syria Peace Conference

MOSCOW (Reuters) -

A senior Syrian official said on Thursday that a long-delayed international conference aimed at ending his country’s civil war was scheduled for November 23-24, but co-organizers Russia and the United States said no date had been set.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also cast doubt on the statement.

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil gave what he said were the dates for the meeting during a news conference in Moscow. He later told Reuters, “This is what [U.N. Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon is saying, not me.”

Hours later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said: “We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. It is not a matter for Syrian officials but the responsibility of the U.N. secretary general to announce and set dates agreed with all sides.”

The United States seconded that.

“We have discussed potential dates but nothing has been finalized,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing. “No date is final until it is set and announced by the U.N.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has suggested the conference be held sometime in mid-November, will attend a meeting of the “Friends of Syria,” including Western and Gulf Arab countries, in London on October 22, at which the peace talks will be discussed, Psaki added.

The deal reached last month for Syria to scrap its chemical weapons rekindled efforts to convene the conference, dubbed “Geneva 2,” which Russia and the United States have been trying to organize since May.

Jamil has made several visits to Russia during the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

He said the conference was needed because “everyone is at a dead end — a military and political dead end.

“Geneva is a way out for everyone — the Americans, Russia, the Syrian regime and the opposition. Whoever realizes this first will benefit. Whoever does not realize it will find himself overboard, outside the political process.”