The picture yesterday of US Secretary of State John Kerry whispering into the ear of his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, his hand on Lavrov's back, may have shown that relations between the two countries on Syria are improving. At a joint press conference in Moscow they announced plans for a peace conference, perhaps later this month. The UN envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said it was “the first hopeful news concerning Syria in a very long time”.

It goes almost without saying that the prospects for such a conference are uncertain and its outcome if it takes place even more so. Nonetheless the effort must be made and it is encouraging that Russia recognises it. Recent escalation's in the intensity of the fighting and extending involvement in it make the establishment of common ground between the US and Russia essential. At the press conference both spoke about President Assad's future. Kerry said -- “It is impossible for me, as a person, to understand how Syria could be governed in future by a man who has committed the things we know have taken place.” More cautiously, Lavrov said, “We are not interested in the fate of certain persons”.

More than 70'000 Syrians have been killed in this war and hundreds of thousands have become refugees. Kerry and Lavrov will carry the hopes of millions that a path to peace can be found.