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No reason for US troops to remain in Syria: Russian envoy

A member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard on a rooftop in Raqqah, Syria on October 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Russia's special presidential envoy for Syria says there is no reason for US forces to remain in the Arab country which is nearing complete victory over terrorist groups.

Alexander Lavrentiev stressed on Thursday that Washington's pretext to keep troops in Syria is groundless.

Lavrentiev made the remarks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, where the eighth round of the intra-Syrian peace talks brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey are underway.

So far, seven rounds of talks have brought representatives from Syria’s warring sides to the negotiating table in a bid to end foreign-backed militancy in the Arab country, which broke out in March 2011.

The US and its allies back militants fighting to topple the Syrian government. American warplanes have also been bombing Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from Damascus or a UN mandate.

The airstrikes have on many occasions resulted in civilian casualties, seriously damaged Syria's infrastructure and failed to fulfill their declared aim of countering terror.

On November 13, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US would not walk away from Syria until UN-brokered peace talks in the Swiss city of Geneva made progress.

“The enemy hasn’t declared that they’re done with the area yet, so we’ll keep fighting as long as they want to fight,” he said, claiming that Washington was conducting military operations in Syria under a UN mandate.

The comments sparked angry reactions from both Syria and Russia, with the latter saying that the US military presence in Syria resembled occupation.

Lavrov, UN Syria envoy meet in Moscow

Separately on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Moscow.

Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, the UN envoy said he planned to organize the next round of the Geneva talks in the second half of January though the last round of the discussions had gone badly.

De Mistura also noted that he would take part in the Astana negotiations on Friday.

"But we also recognize that now is the time, as you say, for a political process, a genuine political process. That's why I'm looking for to this discussions. I'm planning to go to Astana just after this meeting, as you know, in order to able also to see I hope some progress regarding the detainees issues which has been a long standing issue and Syrians are asking us all the time," he pointed out.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (3rd-L) shows the way to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (C) during a meeting in Moscow, December 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Lavrov, for his part, said that all participants at the Syria talks in Geneva will be invited to the planned Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

He further called for the lifting of unilateral Western sanctions against Syria, saying that the bans were "affecting ordinary citizens."

The top Russian diplomat also asked the UN to step up humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people without "politicization" or "precondition."

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