Putin, Obama agree to continue discussions on Syria

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to continue negotiations on a ceasefire agreement for Syria, a senior Obama administration official said on Monday.

Obama and Putin met for 90 minutes on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit in Hangzhou, China, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The leaders’ discussion came hours after top US and Russian diplomats failed to seal a deal aimed at providing access to humanitarian aid for thousands of civilians in the war-torn country.

The plan would forge an unlikely US-Russian military partnership against extremist groups operating in Syria.

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Obama and Putin clarified the remaining gaps in the talks, which largely involve how the deal would be implemented, the official said.

The official added that the two leaders directed their teams to meet again quickly, possibly as soon as later this week.

Russian media also reported the talks.

“The meeting was longer than expected,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by the RIA news agency.

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Asked about the mood at the meeting, Peskov said, “It went well. Work will continue.”

The US official said Obama and Putin discussed core issues on both the Syria and Ukraine crises.

But the two nations appeared to have failed to reach a deal for a ceasefire in Syria despite a growing international outcry about the humanitarian disaster in the country.

US Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t bridge differences with Russia over a possible ceasefire deal with Syria after another hour-long meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

Later in the day, Kerry was scheduled to leave Hangzhou, where he had joined Obama along with leaders of Russia and other members of the G20, leaving open the question of when a deal might be reached.

Differences remain after Russian negotiators walked back on parts of the deal that the US thought had been agreed to earlier, according to the State Department official.

The attempt to forge a ceasefire is part of a broad effort to halt the fighting and create space for talks on a political transition in Syria, after a February ceasefire collapsed. Backed by Russian warplanes, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have waged an air and ground campaign that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, sparked a humanitarian crisis and forced millions of Syrians to seek refuge in Europe.

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