A date for possible peace talks aimed at ending the ongoing war in Syria is being pushed back with diplomats now hoping they can take place before the end of the year.
U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi laid out his revised hopes Tuesday after meeting in Geneva with U.S. and Russian officials, as well as with diplomats from the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
Brahimi had been hoping to bring the Syrian government and members of opposition groups to Geneva for talks later this month but said the goal is now "to have a meeting before the end of the year."
He said details still need to be worked out, adding any progress with Syria's opposition forming a credible delegation to send to the conference, "would be big step forward."
Brahimi again called the situation in Syria dire, saying the latest United Nations figures show nine million Syrians, nearly half the population, have been directly affected by the fighting either as refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs).
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expects Syria to take part in long-proposed peace talks, despite comments from Syrian officials who say negotiations cannot take place if they require President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
On Monday, Syria's state-run SANA news agency quoted Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi as saying the government will not take part in peace talks that require President Assad to cede power.
Members of the Syrian opposition have insisted that negotiations cannot take place unless there is a clear plan for Mr. Assad's departure.
Separately Tuesday, the chief of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Syria wants its poison gas and nerve agent stockpiles destroyed outside the country.
The OPCW is the global chemical weapons watchdog charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. Director-general Ahmet Uzumcu called the Syrian proposal, "the most viable option.''
The Syrian government has until November 15 to present a plan on how it will destroy its existing stockpile of chemical weapons by the middle of next year.
Fighting in Syria also rages on. The Catholic Church confirmed that a mortar round slammed into the building in Damascus that houses the Vatican's embassy early Tuesday. A Vatican spokesman said no one was hurt though the building was damaged.
More than 100,000 people have been killed since fighting erupted between rebel forces and the Syrian government in March 2011.