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Kerry, Lavrov to Seek Political Answers for Syria


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks down the stairs in the twilight after landing in Vienna, Oct. 22, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks down the stairs in the twilight after landing in Vienna, Oct. 22, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna, where he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will seek common ground on Syria’s political future.

The two officials are to confer Friday, as well as participate in multilateral talks that will include the foreign ministers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia and a U.N. representative.

“The issue is: Can we get to a political process during which time the future devolution and allocation of power in Syria is properly allocated by the people of Syria?" Kerry said during a Thursday appearance with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "That’s what we are working towards.”

The meetings come on the heels of an unannounced trip this week by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin considers Assad an ally, while the U.S. and its allies do not believe the Syrian leader should be part of any long-term political process in the country.

“We believe that the Russian interference in Syria is very dangerous because it exacerbates the conflict,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said ahead of Friday’s talks.

In recent weeks, Russia has stepped up military operations in Syria to help the Assad regime fight unrest. However, the U.S.-led coalition that's fighting the Islamic State group has criticized Moscow, saying most of its airstrikes have targeted Syrian opposition positions, not IS militants.

On Thursday, Samantha Power, the United States' U.N. ambassador, said Russian airstrikes were an interference in Syria that were making Islamic State stronger.

“We hope that [Friday’s] meeting between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov will result in Russia recommitting in words and in action to a political solution for Syria,” she said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they address the media before holding a bilateral meeting in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 22, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they address the media before holding a bilateral meeting in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 22, 2015.

Kerry traveled to Vienna from Berlin, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Germany's Steinmeier.

The U.S. has been urging Israel and the Palestinians to tone down their rhetoric in the wake of a series of attacks and shootings that have killed nearly 60 people, mostly Palestinians.

After a four-hour session with Netanyahu, Kerry said he had a “cautious measure of optimism” that a solution could be found to defuse tensions.

He said some proposals might be put on the table in the coming days that would help stop the unrest.

Kerry said he planned to raise the proposals with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah during a meeting Saturday in Jordan's capital, Amman.

Netanyahu reiterated his charge that the violence is a direct result of Palestinian incitement by Hamas, the Islamist movement in Israel, and Abbas. He cited a Thursday incident in which he said “two terrorists tried to murder a bus full of schoolchildren.”

Israeli news reports said two Palestinians stabbed a Jewish man in Beit Shemesh after initially trying to board a school bus.

A Palestinian swings a sling during clashes with Israeli troops, near Ramallah, West Bank, Oct. 20, 2015.

A Palestinian swings a sling during clashes with Israeli troops, near Ramallah, West Bank, Oct. 20, 2015.

Kerry did not address Netanyahu's controversial comments this week that a World War II-era Palestinian leader encouraged Adolf Hitler to exterminate European Jews.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "not optimistic" after his talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He urged both sides to pull back from the brink of what he said could erupt into a full-blown Palestinian uprising.

Netanyahu has said Abbas and the Palestinian leadership must stop “lying” about Israel. Specifically, he has objected to rumors that Israel is planning to take over an East Jerusalem holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Israel says it has no intention of changing the long-standing rules overseeing what Muslims call the al-Aqsa Mosque or Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Aug. 22, 2015.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Aug. 22, 2015.

But Abbas is unconvinced.

"The continued occupation and aggression against Christian and Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem, particularly against al-Aqsa, opens the door to a religious conflict," Abbas said Wednesday. "We don't want it and we are warning over its consequences."

The violence appears to also stem from young Palestinians tired of the dim outlook for peace, little economic opportunity and Israeli settlements in lands they want for a future state.

VOA's Mike Richman contributed to this story from Washington.

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