The top US and Russian diplomats will hold a surprise meeting Thursday with the United Nations' peace envoy for Syria, signaling fresh hopes of an international breakthrough to end the Arab country's 21-month civil war.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will gather in Dublin on the sidelines of a human rights conference, a senior US official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. She provided few details about the unscheduled get-together.
Ahead of the three-way meeting, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lavrov met separately Thursday for about 25 minutes. They agreed to hear Mr. Brahimi out on a path forward, a senior US official said. The two also discussed issues ranging from Egypt to North Korea, as well as new congressional action aimed at Russian officials accused of complicity in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The former Cold War foes have fought bitterly over how to address Syria's conflict, with Washington harshly criticizing Moscow of shielding its Arab ally. The Russians respond by accusing the US of meddling by demanding the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and ultimately seeking an armed intervention such as the one last year against the late Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
But the gathering of the three key international figures suggests possible compromise in the offing. At the least, it confirms what officials describe as an easing of some of the acrimony that has raged between Moscow and Washington over the future of an ethnically diverse nation whose stability is seen as critical given its geographic position in between powder kegs Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel.
The threat of Syria's government using some of its vast stockpiles of chemical weapons is also adding urgency to diplomatic efforts. Western governments have cited the rising danger of such a scenario this week, and officials say Russia, too, shares great concern on this point.
On Thursday, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad accused the United States and Europe of using the issue of chemical weapons to justify a future military intervention against Syria. He warned that any such intervention would be "catastrophic."