St. Petersburg, Russia- On the eve of Saturday's conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed their countries' differences on Syria in St. Petersburg on the eve of the Geneva talks, but could not reach agreement on key elements of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's proposed plan for a Syrian political transition, press reports said Friday.
Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met one-on-one for about an hour in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Areas of "difficulty and difference" remain between Russia and the US ahead of key talks on the crisis in Syria, a US official says Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier met US counterpart Hillary Clinton, and said there was a "very good chance" of finding common ground.
Lavrov predicted the meeting had a "good chance" of finding a way forward, despite the grim conditions on the ground.”
“I felt a change in Hillary Clinton's position. There were not ultimatums. Not a word was said that the document we will discuss in Geneva is untouchable.” Lavrov said.
But a US state department official later told reporters: "There are still areas of difficulty and difference."
Discussing the chances of an agreement being reached on Saturday, the official said: "We may get there, we may not."
Meanwhile, Lavrov's deputy Gennady Gatilov said on his Twitter account: "Our Western partners want to decide the outcome of the political process in Syria themselves, even though it is a job for the Syrians."
Russia insists that outsiders cannot order a political solution for Syria, while the U.S. is adamant that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should not be allowed to remain in power at the top of the transitional government.
Russia has reportedly objected to excluding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from any unity government as Annan's plan suggests would happen.
But, Washington has rejected Russia's request to drop such conditions. Clinton said Thursday in Riga, Latvia, that all participants in the Geneva meeting, including Russia, were on board with the transition plan. She told reporters that the invitations made clear that representatives "were coming on the basis of (Annan's) transition plan."
Foreign ministers from all five of the permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — converged at the U.N.'s European headquarters in the sprawling Palais des Nations overlooking Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc. Russia and China have twice used their council veto to shield Syria from U.N. sanctions.
International envoy for Syria crisis, Kofi Annan, wants support for an interim government that could include opposition members and officials serving under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but exclude those "whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation", his spokesman said.
Diplomats said this was an implicit reference to the Syrian president.
The United Nations says the violence in Syria has worsened since a cease-fire deal in April and the bloodshed appears to be taking on dangerous sectarian overtones, with growing numbers of Syrians targeted on account of their religion. The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria heading toward civil war.