(File image) American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a United States delegation to talks on the conflict in Syria being hosted by France this week, a US official confirmed on Tuesday.

“The secretary will lead our delegation to the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris,” the State Department official told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

The confirmation came just after France, which is hosting the third meeting of the group seeking to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria, said Russia had refused to attend.

Friday's Paris talks will come less than a week after a gathering in Geneva - which included Russia - endorsed a blueprint for a political transition in Syria seeking to end the 16-month rebellion to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the Russians were free to decide whether to attend the Paris talks or not.

“It's their choice. We think this is a very valuable forum that brings together a much larger group of countries. The door is open to them if they want to join. It's up to them if they don't,” Nuland told reporters.

“From our perspective, this meeting is important and will add energy and lift to this effort to come to a post-transition strategy in Syria.”

Among other issues to be discussed in Paris would be the sanctions imposed on Syria, setting up a mechanism for accountability “for those with blood on their hands” and humanitarian aid for those caught in the crossfire.

“I think all of those issues will also be discussed again,” Nuland said.

“But now we are also adding to that list concrete planning for the democratic political transition, both the work in Geneva and getting that endorsed and the work that will come out of Cairo and the opposition's view on how to take it forward.”

More than 100 countries would be attending the talks in Paris “to support change and democracy and pluralism and unity in Syria, to come together and give a boost to the Syrian people”, she added.

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan drew up the Geneva plan adopted on Saturday, but it has been heavily criticised for not including a direct call for Assad to step down.

US officials have insisted that no future transitional government would include what they call “Assad and his cronies”.

Russia has backed the Geneva accord, but on Tuesday accused the West of seeking to “distort” the agreement for the political transition.

The United States, France, Britain, Germany, and Arab nations Saudi Arabia and Qatar are leading members of the Friends, whose more than 60 members include most of the EU states and many countries making up the Arab League. - AFP