UN seeks Syria peace talks amid military strike threat

UN seeks Syria peace talks amid military strike threat
Smoke rises as seen from the Aleppo district of Salaheddine on Sept 4, 2013.

UNITED NATIONS, United States - The United Nations is making a desperate new push for a Syria peace conference even as the United States prepares a possible military strike, according to diplomats.

Talks on a conference are to be relaunched at the Group of 20 summit in Russia this week with the 30-month-old conflict at a new level of bitterness after the suspected use of banned chemical weapons, envoys said.

Despite doubts that the two sides in the war will come to the table, UN Under Secretary General Jeffrey Feltman discussed a possible conference during a landmark visit last week to Iran, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, UN officials and diplomats said.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government would press the Syrian opposition when Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmad al-Jarba visits London on Thursday.

He added that Prime Minister David Cameron would call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to apply pressure for such a conference when they meet in Saint Petersburg this week.

Hague on Tuesday told the British parliament there is still "an overwhelming case" to try for a negotiated settlement.

The major UN Security Council powers - United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - agreed a transition blueprint for Syria at a conference in Geneva in June last year. Russia and the United States agreed to push for a follow up meeting in May when the UN's Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was on the verge of resigning in frustration at deadlocked peace efforts.

"There will be a lot of discussion in Saint Petersburg about making an announcement of timing for a Geneva II conference," said a senior envoy at the United Nations.

The envoy said there could be an announcement before the annual United Nations leaders' summit starting September 24 that a conference would be held, possibly in October.

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