US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in St. Petersburg
Top diplomats from the United States and Russia failed to overcome their differences on the future of Syria Friday, just hours before crunch multi-nation talks were to take place in Geneva, reports AFP.
After a nearly three-hour meeting in Saint Petersburg, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov showed just a glimmer of hope that a deal could be done to help end the bloodshed.
Describing the meeting, a senior US official said there remained areas of "difficulty and difference" between Russia and the United States over the political future of the war-ridden nation.
But both powers agreed to continue talks in Geneva on Saturday, where they will be joined by other permanent members of the UN Security Council and a handful of regional powers.
"Out of respect to (international peace envoy) Kofi Annan, they agreed we should all go to Geneva tomorrow to try to produce a result," the US diplomat said.
Clinton had threatened to boycott the meeting if Russia did not agree to Annan's plan for political transition, which included an opaque but unmistakable call for Bashar al-Assad and his government to be replaced by a government of national unity.
Buoyed by the removal of that US threat, Lavrov voiced optimism that Saturday's talks could bring a shift toward peace after 16 months of fighting.
Russia's top diplomat said he had now "detected a shift" in Washington's approach.
"There were no ultimatums. Not a word was said about the document now being discussed in Geneva being completely untouchable."
"I can confidently say that we have a very good chance tomorrow in Geneva to find a common denominator and mark a path forward," he told reporters.
Russia -- long an ally of Syria -- has argued that foreign powers should not dictate terms to Syria and has provided its old ally with weapons.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov early on Saturday tweeted that experts in Geneva had thus far failed to agree to the wording of a final document on Syria because "the Western partners want to determine the political process themselves."
UN-Arab League envoy Annan said "external powers" have encouraged violence in Syria as he issued a new plea for unity ahead of the key international meeting on the conflict on Saturday.
"Many external powers are deeply involved. Despite formal unity behind the six-point plan, mutual mistrust has made them work at cross-purposes," Annan said in a commentary for the Washington Post published Friday.
Meanwhile fighting has only intensified in recent weeks and rights monitors said more than 230 people -- most of them civilians -- had been killed across the strategic Middle East country since Thursday.