U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discussed the possibility for a first-ever cease-fire in Syria, with the Russian foreign minister saying that President Bashar-Al Assad is willing to open aid access to devastated areas.
Monday's meeting in Paris broached the subject of "localized cease-fires" in cities such as Aleppo, which have been pounded by government shelling and plagued by rebel infighting.
"We talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a cease-fire. Maybe a localized cease-fire in Aleppo," Kerry said at a press conference after the meeting.
While Lavrov said the talks with Kerry had been "constructive," he once again stressed the importance of including Iran in the Geneva II peace talks, which are slated to begin Jan. 22 but have failed to attract any rebel faction.
The AFP news agency reported that Kerry had said Iran, which backs Damascus, was "welcome" at the Syria talks if it agreed to a transition of power in the war-torn country – an issue that has long been a sticking point in negotiations. U.S. diplomats had previously indicated Iran might have a role “on the sidelines” of Geneva.
Kerry told reporters that the process in Geneva to end the crisis was going to be difficult, but that it had to begin right away.
The discussion with Lavrov and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also included the possibility of a prisoner exchange between the warring sides.
Kerry said Lavrov told him the Assad government was also prepared to open certain areas up for humanitarian access, including the besieged area of East Ghouta.
Political analyst Kamel Wazne told Al Jazeera that Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has aided various rebel factions, had to sit down at the same table if the conflict was going to end.
"There's a lot of positive things to come out of this. Finally, the Americans and Russians are on one page, they both want the end of the war in the Middle East, but Russia and the U.S. alone is not enough," he said.
"I think it is very crucial for the Iranians to be at the same table," said Wazne. "It is the conflict between (the) Saudis and Iran which is the issue at this point. Those two forces have to make peace or they go to war."
About two dozen nations plan to send foreign ministers to a daylong gathering on January 22 at a Montreux hotel. The peace talks would then start on January 24 at the U.N.'s headquarters in Geneva with meetings between Assad's delegation and Syrian opposition groups.
The organizers’ best chance at securing an opposition group will be the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, which is expected to announce whether or not it will attend this week. But the SNC lacks any armed representation on the ground, and skeptics wonder what capacity the group has to reel in armed rebels in the event a deal were struck at Geneva.
Al Jazeera with wire services