December 9, 2016 / 2:18 PM / 7 months ago

Russia's Lavrov says U.S. dragging out talks on Aleppo

3 Min Read

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia, December 5, 2016.Sergei Karpukhin

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday accused the United States of stalling talks on evacuating remaining rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, and said it was taking "strange" and contradictory positions.

Lavrov said there was still a good chance of reaching a deal, as long as Washington did not change its mind about participating in a meeting of technical experts in Geneva on Saturday.

But he also said the fighting would continue until all rebels had left, denying that he had said on Thursday that the Syrian military would halt its activity.

Russia, which backs the Syrian army with air strikes, wants Washington to urge rebel fighters to abandon their remaining territory, which appears to be on the verge of falling, and accept transport out.

Russia said on Friday that its forces had helped more than 8,000 Syrian citizens flee parts of eastern Aleppo still controlled by rebels in the last 24 hours, including almost 3,000 children.

The U.N. human rights office said it believed some 100,000 civilians were still in the rebel-held enclave.

Lavrov said Washington's lack of control over Syrian rebels was a factor in its inability to conclude an agreement.

But he also said the State Department did not appear to be "in charge" of all factors, and that some parts of the U.S. government apparently did not support continued negotiations with Russia.

Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had publicly denied the existence of a U.S. working paper that had been presented to Moscow last week, Lavrov said.

Better Ties Under Trump?

He appeared to hold out hope of closer cooperation once Donald Trump was sworn in as U.S. president. Trump has vowed to build better ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggested that Washington's focus in Syria - which along with Russia considers all rebels "terrorists" - should be on fighting Islamic State.

"The dedication to fighting terrorism is quite obvious and evident with Donald Trump, much more than the actions of the Obama administration," he said.

Lavrov was in Hamburg for a meeting of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

He said he had raised the issue of military buildups in Europe, where the West says it is responding to aggressive Russian actions, notably in annexing Crimea from Ukraine and supporting a rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

Russia for its part objects to NATO's eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War.

Lavrov said he had submitted classified documents showing that the West had promised Moscow there would be "no expansion of NATO eastward, and the military structures of NATO would not edge closer to our borders".

He accused NATO of an "unsavoury" rush to admit Montenegro as a member before Obama left office.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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