Kerry calls Lavrov despite freeze on Syria talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United States Secretary of State John Kerry speak during the International Syria Support Group meeting, September 22, 2016 in New York (AFP Photo/Bryan R. Smith) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart to talk about the fighting in Syria on Wednesday, two days after Washington suspended contacts on reviving a ceasefire there.

US officials insisted the call to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which Kerry requested, did not represent a rapid U-turn and that "bilateral talks" on the crisis remain on hold.

"Engagement remains," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"What we talked about the other day was bilateral engagement with regard to Syria. That remains suspended, but it doesn't preclude the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Lavrov from talking."

On Monday, outraged by what it said was Russia's active support of the Syrian government assault on eastern Aleppo, the United States ended efforts to revive a failed US and Russian-brokered ceasefire.

But Kerry has insisted he remains committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict, by including Russia in a broader dialogue with US allies and Syria's neighbors.

Toner said that, in addition to Lavrov, Kerry had spoken to his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, the European Union and Qatar to discuss the way forward.

And he added that Kerry had also tackled Lavrov on the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia stands accused of aiding separatist rebels, and the world powers' nuclear stand-off with North Korea.

Nevertheless, Toner faced questions about why Kerry should be so quick to pick up the telephone again to talk to Lavrov after blaming Moscow for the collapse in the truce talks.

"I would argue to the contrary that it would almost be irresponsible for us not to have any conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with the Russians going forward," Toner replied.

In Moscow, the foreign minister confirmed that the call had taken place and that Syria, Ukraine and North Korea were on the agenda.