Russia's Putin, Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev discuss Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed the Syria crisis by phone, the Kremlin said on Saturday, after peace talks in Kazakhstan closed without any substantive negotiations.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin and Nazarbayev exchanged views over the third round of talks on the Syria crisis in the Kazakh capital of Astana this week, but gave no further details.

The Astana talks ended on Wednesday without progress after rebels boycotted the meeting.

The talks are run by Russia, Turkey and Iran, backers of the warring sides, and have little U.N. involvement. Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to hold the next meeting in Astana on May 3 and 4.

In a separate statement on Saturday, Russia's foreign ministry said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also discussed Syria on the phone with French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Lavrov said that the refusal by rebels to join the Kazakh talks show "some countries" are trying to harm the peace process in Syria, the statement said. Lavrov did not name the countries.

The rebels, who attended previous rounds in the Kazakh capital refused to join the latest talks, accusing Russia of failing to uphold December's shaky ceasefire.

The foreign ministry statement added that both Russia and France agreed to work together preparing another round of parallel, United Nations-led Syria peace talks set for March 23 in Geneva.

U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura had earlier proposed to the negotiators in Geneva that the issue of fighting terrorism and the ceasefire should be handled in parallel talks in Astana.

He wanted the focus in Geneva to be a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and accountable governance, based on Security Council resolution 2254.

Many parties involved in the Syria peace process, including Russia, have said that Astana talks do not substitute negotiations in Geneva.

Rebels and their families began leaving their last bastion in the Syrian city of Homs on Saturday, under a Russian-backed deal with the government expected to be among the largest evacuations of its kind.

(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Julia Glover)

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