Russia Accuses U.S. of Hijacking Preparations for Syria Talks

VIENNA (AP) -

Russia accused the United States on Thursday of hijacking preparatory talks for a weekend meeting of nearly 20 nations focused on ending the Syrian war. The charge was denied by U.S. officials, who expressed surprise that Moscow did not show up.

The dispute appeared to focus on the leading role the U.S. had assumed in the talks prior to the main Syria meeting Saturday, and was significant in reflecting the tensions between the two main players whose diplomatic muscle is key to hopes of progress.

On Saturday Secretary of State John Kerry is set to join Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and counterparts from other nations that include adversaries Iran and Saudi Arabia.

But the dispute over working groups that have met since Wednesday was a warning of tensions ahead.

Lavrov’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told reporters in Moscow that the Russian Foreign Ministry was informed about the preparatory meetings in an email from the U.S. Embassy, rather than through usual communication channels. She said Russia was not consulted and the initiative caught them by surprise.