U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart are meeting in Paris to try to accelerate peace efforts for Syria after the European Union's top diplomats failed to reach a compromise over whether to arm opposition fighters.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov started one-on-one talks in a Paris hotel Monday aimed at breathing life into a proposed peace conference on Syria. The two will later be joined by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for a working dinner as they push to bring warring sides in Syria together.
The U.S. and Russia have been trying to arrange the talks for next month, envisioned them as a forum for the Syrian government and opposition to negotiate terms for an interim government to end the civil war.
Earlier, EU foreign ministers had gathered in Brussels to decide the future of the 27-nation bloc's arms embargo on Syria, which expires Friday. Britain and France have been pushing for an amendment that would allow sending weapons to the Syrian opposition.
The issue is dividing the EU. Austria has been firm in ruling out arming the rebels.
But British Foreign Minister William Hague said the rebels need weapons.
"In our view, it is important to show that we are prepared to amend our arms embargo so that the Assad regime gets a clear signal that it has to negotiate seriously. Therefore, for us, amending the embargo is part of supporting the diplomatic work and trying to bring about a political solution," he said.
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Meanwhile the 60-member Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group, met in Istanbul Monday and blocked a deal to fully admit a liberal faction headed by a Saudi-backed veteran dissident, Michel Kilo.
The SNC's Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood alliance successfully resisted an expansion that would have granted Saudi Arabia more influence. Kilo's bloc had been seeking up to 22 new seats in the coalition, but ended up with five.
Heavy fighting raged in Syria around the strategic rebel-held border town of Qusair and the capital, Damascus, amid renewed reports of chemical weapons attacks by Assad's forces.
In Geneva, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay lamented the "horrific" level of rights violations in war-torn Syria, saying "a humanitarian, political and social disaster is already upon us, and what looms is truly a nightmare." She addressed diplomats as she opened one of the U.N. Human Rights Council's four annual sessions.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 80,000 people since it began as peaceful protests against Assad in March 2011.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.