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Syria's Warring Sides Agree To Direct Talks
The Syrian regime and opposition figures have agreed to finally sit down to talks on the country's three-year civil war.
After bitter opening speeches at a peace summit in the Swiss town of Montreux, Russia said the rival delegations have promised to start direct talks on Friday, which are expected to last for a week.
The day got off to a rocky start as a clash over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's future threatened to collapse the negotiations even before they really began.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who held discussions with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem and the opposition's Ahmed Jarba, urged the talks not to be focused on leadership change in Damascus.
"As for guarantees that the talks will not collapse - it is necessary to influence both delegations so that this does not happen," he said.
"The main thing is to start the process."
UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said the Syrian delegations may be ready to discuss prisoner swaps, local ceasefires and humanitarian aid.
"We have had some fairly clear indications that the parties are willing to discuss issues of access to needy people, the liberation of prisoners and local ceasefires," he told a news conference.
At the end of the first day of the summit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said both sides had "taken the first small step" to making peace.
"Ending this war and making peace will be hard," he said.
"But it can be done, and it must be done. It is still not too late to end the bloodshed and find a peaceful and democratic solution.
"The moment to act courageously and decisively is now."
Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the rebel view that there is "no way" Mr Assad can stay under the terms of a 2012 international accord urging an interim coalition.
"There is no way - no way possible in the imagination - that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern," he said.
"One man and those who have supported him can no longer hold an entire nation and a region hostage."
But Mr al Moallem said terrorists and foreign meddling had ripped his country apart, and refused to give up the podium despite numerous requests from Mr Ban.
He said: "You live in New York. I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum.
"After three years of suffering, this is my right."
He also accused the West and neighbouring countries of funnelling money, weapons and foreign fighters to the rebellion.
Syrian National Coalition officials had wavered until the last minute on whether to attend the talks. They have insisted that any discussion of Assad continuing to remain in power would effectively end the talks.
At least 130,000 people have been killed since a peaceful uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011, with around 2.3 million refugees created.
On Tuesday, a group of international lawyers published allegations of the "systematic torture and killing" of up to 11,000 people by the Syrian regime.
The "Geneva II" conference went ahead after a last-minute dispute over the UN decision to withdraw an invitation to Iran over Tehran's refusal to endorse a plan for a transitional national body in Syria.
Iran is one of Assad's closest allies.
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