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Switzerland will host a Ukraine peace conference in June and hopes Russia can join one day

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland’s government said Wednesday it will host a high-level international conference in June to help chart a path toward peace in Ukraine after more than two years of war, and expressed hope that Russia might join in the peace process someday.

The lakeside Bürgenstock resort near Lucerne is expected to host the June 15-16 gathering that will draw top government officials from dozens of countries, following up on a plan laid out in recent months by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.

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The top Swiss diplomat said more than 100 countries would be invited to the gathering.

“The first country that we spoke with, after Ukraine of course, was Russia, because a peace process cannot happen without Russia, even if it won’t be there for the first meeting” Cassis told reporters in the Swiss capital, Bern.

Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported that President Joe Biden may attend but White House officials said Wednesday no decision yet had been made about who from the U.S. government might attend the summit and that no travel plans have been confirmed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned last week that prospective negotiations to end the fighting in Ukraine could be successful only if they take Moscow’s interests into account, dismissing a planned round of peace talks as a Western ruse to rally broader international support for Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there will be no peace in Ukraine until Russia’s goals are met.

“We’re not going to sign the peace deal at this conference,” said Viola Amherd, the Swiss president. She called the meeting a “first step” in a process toward a lasting peace in Ukraine that could lead to a second, follow-up gathering.

“It has to be clear from the start that Russia — sooner or later — has to be there,” Foreign Minister Cassis said. “Now, it’s not mandatory that it’s there the first day. We could also imagine that on the first day, people might agree about how to better invite in Russia.”

“We have to agree: That’s the backbreaking work ahead of us,” he added.

The Swiss government said early talks toward arranging the conference involved the European Union and envoys from the so-called Global South, including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Cassis acknowledged “some unknowns” leading up to the conference, but cited a Swiss tradition of shuttle diplomacy between rival sides and Switzerland’s feeling of “responsibility” to contribute to the peace process in Ukraine.

U.S. participation was “essential,” he said, and the United States had confirmed its participation to the Swiss, though he didn’t specify at what level.

Zelenskyy has presented a 10-point peace formula that, among other things, seeks the expulsion of all Russian forces from Ukraine and accountability for war crimes as the two sides continue to fight along the roughly 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line. Moscow has promptly rejected such ideas.

Much of the diplomatic uncertainty has centered on whether Russia’s key ally China might attend — and Cassis pressed for Beijing’s support during a trip to China last month. Beijing has presented its own 12-point proposal to end the fighting in Ukraine more than a year ago.

China’s Foreign Ministry has said that Beijing supports a conference that’s accepted by both Russia and Ukraine, which isn’t the case so far.

Bürgenstock, perched above Lake Lucerne, has hosted diplomatic gatherings in the past, including talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in 2004 — which did little to pave the way toward reconciliation on their Mediterranean island.

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