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Kerry meets European foreign ministers in Paris ahead of Syria truce talks

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris for the meetiing on Syria, migrants and other questions
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris for the meetiing on Syria, migrants and other questions Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Paris Sunday to discuss Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and migration with European foreign ministers. The meeting comes ahead of UN-sponsored Syria peace talks in Geneva with Bashar al-Assad's government declaring that calls for the president's departure were a "red line" and the opposition insisting he must go.

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The Paris meeting allowed Kerry the chance to meet French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault for the first time in his new job, although Ayrault was already on the international diplomatic circuit when he was prime minister from 2012-2014.

The foreign affairs ministers of Germany, Britain and Italy were also present, along with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherina.

With those Syrian opposition forces invited already in Geneva and government representatives arriving Sunday, hopes of a truce were at the top of the agenda in Paris.

But the participants were already arguing before they had even met.

"We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency... Bashar al-Assad is a red line," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Saturday, while chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush said that a proposed transitional period "should start with the fall, or death, of Bashar al-Assad".

Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State (IS) armed group and Syrian Kurdish organisations were not invited to the talks.

The Paris meeting was also expected to discuss the wave of migrants arriving in Europe, in part due to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

The spread of IS's influence in Libya may also come up.

Ayrault on Thursday called for sanctions against Libyan politicians believed to be obstructing moves towards forming a national unity government, seen as a key step in blocking the armed Islamists' progress there.

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