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US, Russia, UN to Hold Fresh Talks on Syria

FILE - In an image provided by the U.S. Air Force, an F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Aug. 12, 2015, to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.

Diplomats from the United States, Russia, and the United Nations will meet Friday in Geneva to discuss ways to advance the peace process in war-torn Syria, officials said Thursday.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Russia's RIA news agency Moscow will use the meeting to call for an "intensification of joint efforts" against terrorism.

The U.S. and Russia have struggled to find common ground as they carry out separate military campaigns in Syria, where a civil war has killed more than 250,000 people.

Most U.S. airstrikes have targeted the Islamic State extremist group, while the Russian bombs have mostly hit other Syrian rebel groups, including some backed by the West.

The U.S. State Department confirmed the Friday meeting, saying Washington's delegation will be led by Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson.

The meeting will focus on efforts to forge a political transition and on the "framework and the architecture for a cease-fire," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

The U.N.'s special peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will also participate in the Geneva talks, which are part of a wider diplomatic effort aimed at ending the conflict.

FILE - Damaged shops are seen with new doors in the old city of Homs, Syria on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
FILE - Damaged shops are seen with new doors in the old city of Homs, Syria on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.

The so-called "Geneva process," agreed to last month, aims to host a meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria's fragmented opposition by early January.

Efforts to unify Syria's opposition continued this week, with a meeting in Saudi Arabia between members representing a broad range of rebel groups.

The summit, held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, includes representatives from the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition and even some Islamist insurgent groups.

The meeting is off to a "positive start," according to Kirby, the State Department spokesman, who said the goal of the talks was to "to seek an established set of negotiating principles for – and to try to establish a negotiating team."

"The initial reports that we’re getting back are that it’s off to a positive start, and that they’re beginning to make good – they’re beginning to make some progress," he said.

The meeting is expected to continue until Thursday or Friday.