Russia's Lavrov, US' Tillerson discuss Syria over phone

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the situation in northern Syria in a telephone call Wednesday, according to the official website of the Russian foreign service.

The two sides "discussed the situation with the Syrian settlement, including the course of operations in the northern regions and preparations for the meeting of the Syrian sides in Vienna and for the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi," a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

In separate details of the call, the U.S. State Department said the two diplomats discussed "Russia's role in ensuring the [Bashar] Assad regime plays a constructive role in the UN-led Geneva process".

The Geneva talks, a special meeting on Syria with representation from the regime and opposition, will be held Jan. 25-26 at the Vienna International Centre. A statement by the UN said the meeting is to draw discussions on constitutional issues.

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress, set for Jan. 28-29, will be held in the Russian city of Sochi. It is expected to be attended by all sectors of Syrian society except for terror groups as it is prescribed by UN Resolution 2254 which stands for the inclusive character of the inter-Syrian dialogue.

Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin earlier said the summit in Sochi would prove challenging, mostly due to the multiple issues on the table. ​

During a call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Tillerson and his Egyptian counterpart "agreed on the importance of working closely together to strengthen the UN-led Geneva political process as the only appropriate mechanism to resolve the conflict in Syria", the State Department said in a statement.

Lavrov and Tillerson also talked about North Korea. Lavrov noted the readiness demonstrated by Pyongyang to engage in a dialogue and warned against an escalation in tensions that could be provoked by "aggressive rhetoric" against North Korea, including the creation of blocs against it and threats of a sea blockade.

In its statement on the call, the U.S. said Tillerson discussed a previous meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in which he called "out North Korea's unlawful and dangerous development of nuclear and ballistic missile programs and stressed the urgent need for all parties to implement UNSCRs related to North Korea," a reference to UN Security Council Resolutions.

Tillerson also noted a pending meeting between Russia and the U.S. on Ukraine. He "emphasized the need for Russia to accelerate implementation of its commitments under the Minsk Agreements and reverse the recent escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine", State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

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