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Kerry, Russian foreign minister to discuss Syria in coming days

A front loader remove debris from a site hit by an airstrike in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that he would meet his Russian counterpart in the coming days to discuss an American proposal for closer military cooperation and intelligence sharing on Syria.

Kerry told reporters that he might meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, but indicated detailed talks were more likely to take place on the sidelines of a gathering of Southeast Asian nations in Laos on Monday and Tuesday.

Kerry defended the U.S. proposal, which has been greeted with deep scepticism by top American military and intelligence officials.

“The president of the United States has authorized and ordered this track,” he said. “It is the president’s desire to test whether or not the Russians are prepared to do what they said during our negotiations in Moscow that they will do.”

“I don’t comment on internal negotiations” within the U.S. government, Kerry said. “The place for these arguments to be argued is in the (White House) Situation Room with the president of the United States, and he has made a decision.”

The proposed agreement - which Kerry discussed in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week - would require the Syrian government to cease attacks on U.S.-backed Syrian opposition fighters. In return, Russia would receive U.S. intelligence help to target militant groups in Syria such as Islamic State and al Qaeda affiliate Nusrah Front.

“We’re going to test this very carefully based not on trust, based on specific steps,” Kerry said of the diplomacy with Moscow. “So far, it is showing a modicum of promise which, hopefully, we can complete.”

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Warren Strobel; Editing by Jonathan Oatis