ANDREWS AFB, MARYLAND —
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva for another try at arranging a cease-fire in Syria.
The State Department said their talks would focus on "reducing violence, expanding humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people and moving towards a political solution needed to end the civil war."
Kerry and Lavrov have met several times over the past two weeks in Geneva and at the Group of 20 summit in China, but failed to finalize an agreement on a cessation of hostilities in Syria. U.S. officials said the talks have been hung up on "technical issues."
American diplomats, speaking to VOA, have expressed frustration with their Russian counterparts, accusing them of reversing direction on some key points of agreement in recent days.
Kerry has said he does not want a tenuous deal, but a realistic agreement with the Russians.
Russia is the Syrian government's strongest ally in Damascus' fight against numerous rebel groups — moderates and Islamic extremists — who are trying to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow's determination questioned
The U.S. backs the moderate opposition and has accused the Russians of making things worse in Syria. Some U.S. officials have questioned Moscow's seriousness in pursuing a political solution.
Meanwhile Thursday, activists and state-run Syrian media said Syrian forces had taken a strategically important southern suburb of Aleppo.
Rebels control the eastern part of the city, while government forces, backed by Russian warplanes, control the west. Thousands of suffering civilians are stuck in the middle.
The fighting is preventing humanitarian aid from getting into the city, which used to be Syria's commercial capital.
Also Thursday, Syrian officials denied reports that the military was behind suspected chlorine gas attack on civilians Wednesday in a rebel-held part of the city.
The officials blamed "armed terrorist groups," the government's term for the opposition.