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Syria talks produce very little

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 7:24 p.m.

GENEVA — The top diplomats from the United States and Russia raised hopes for reviving broader talks to end the Syrian civil war Friday, even as they showed scant progress in hurried efforts to tackle one horrific part — the chemical weapons fired on civilians. U.N. inspectors prepared to turn in their own poison gas report this weekend.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the inspectors to release “an overwhelming report” that chemical weapons were used on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. The chief inspector, Ake Sellstrom, would not comment on its conclusions.

The Syrian government and rebels blame each other for the attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The Obama administration, which says 1,429 people were killed, has said it has evidence that clearly indicates the Syrian government was behind the attack. But Russia, a key ally of Syria, has said it is not convinced by the U.S. evidence.

The U.N. inspectors have a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons were used, not to establish who was responsible. But two U.N. diplomats said the report could point to the perpetrators, saying that the inspectors collected many samples from the attack and also interviewed doctors and witnesses.

Leading the central talks in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made clear that any prospects for restarting broad peace negotiations depend on first settling the standoff over chemical weapons. But they didn't disclose any clear movement since their meetings began Thursday.

Kerry and Lavrov met with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the potential for a new Geneva peace conference. Kerry said he, Lavrov and Brahimi agreed to meet around Sept. 28 on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

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