U.S., Russian diplomats to meet next Wednesday to discuss Syria

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:39pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior U.S. and Russian diplomats will meet in The Hague next Wednesday to discuss ending Syria's two-year civil war, the State Department said on Thursday, in what would be the first such meeting since reports of a deadly chemical attack outside the capital, Damascus.

While the meeting was previously announced, a date was never released.

The delegations will include State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, and Russian deputy foreign ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov, the State Department said.

Ford will meet with Syrian opposition leaders in Istanbul, on Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The United States, which supports moderate Syrian rebel groups, and Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad and a supplier of arms to Damascus, have been discussing holding a peace conference that would bring together the warring sides.

A senior State Department official said chemical weapons would also be discussed.

Syria's opposition has blamed the attacks on Assad's forces and demanded that U.N. inspectors, who are already in the country to examine previous allegations of chemical weapons use in the conflict, investigate the rebel-held region where the attack took place.

Moscow has said the attack was likely a provocation by opposition forces meant to place blame on the Syrian president.

The United States is among a group of about 36 countries that have called for a U.N. investigation into the attack, which by some estimates killed between 500 and 1,300 people. President Barack Obama has directed U.S. intelligence agencies to find out what happened.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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