Middle East

Syria conflict: US and Russia want draft constitution by August

Media captionUS Secretary of State John Kerry: ''I believe Russia is full engaged in this effort''

The US and Russia have agreed to aim for a draft version of a new constitution for Syria by August, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said.

Mr Kerry was speaking after four hours of talks at the Kremlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He said they also agreed to press the Syrian government and rebels to speed up talks on a political transition.

A round of indirect peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition concluded on Thursday.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said he had found a lot of common ground between the two sides.

The talks have now gone into a planned recess and Mr de Mistura said they would re-start next month.

'Target schedule'

Mr Kerry arrived for talks in Moscow 10 days after President Putin announced he was withdrawing the bulk of Russia's military force from Syria.

"We agreed on a target schedule for establishing a framework for a political transition and also a draft constitution, both of which we targeted by August," Mr Kerry said at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Kerry would not say if the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been discussed in his talks with Mr Putin.

But he said they agreed that Mr Assad "should do the right thing" and engage in the peace talks.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Syrian government forces have entered the IS-held city of Palmyra

The US backs opposition calls for Mr Assad to step down, but Russia, an ally of the Syrian leader, says it is a decision for Syrians alone.

Mr Lavrov said the US and Russia would press the Syrian government and opposition to hold "direct talks" in Geneva that will move toward "a transitional governance structure".

He and Mr Kerry both said they would seek to reinforce the cessation of hostilities that has largely held since it began on 27 February.

Advance on Palmyra

So-called Islamic State (IS) and the rival jihadist group al-Nusra Front are excluded from the truce.

Earlier on Thursday, Syrian state TV announced that government forces had entered the ancient town of Palmyra seized by IS militants last year.

Officials launched an offensive to retake the city earlier this month, backed by Russian air strikes.

Reports said a Russian special forces officer had been killed in fighting near the city.

IS seized the ruins of Palmyra and the adjoining modern town in May. It subsequently destroyed two 2,000-year-old temples, an arch and funerary towers, provoking global outrage.