US and Russia closer to new Syria ceasefire after talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US and Russia still have some issues to resolve before an agreement can be announced.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speak to media after a meeting on Syria in Geneva, Switzerland on August 26, 2016.

Updated Aug 28, 2016

The United States and Russia failed to close a deal on nationwide cessation of hostilities and extending military cooperation in Syria, saying they still have issues to resolve before an agreement could be announced.

"Teams from both sides would try to finalise details in coming days in Geneva," US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, told a joint news conference in the Swiss city. 

The two diplomats met on and off for nearly 12 hours and were briefly joined by the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who said he hoped the talks would help his drive to revive the stalled negotiations.

Kerry said the talks with Lavrov had "achieved clarity on the path forward" but together they offered few details on how they planned to renew a February cessation of hostilities and improve humanitarian assistance.

"We don't want to have a deal for the sake of the deal," Kerry said.

"We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution.

The talks have been complicated since initial meetings in July by new regime attacks on opposition groups, and a significant offensive in the southern part of the divided city of Aleppo led by opposition fighters intermingled with the Fath Alsham Front, former Alqaeda aflfiliate AlNusra Front.

That group has renamed itself Fateh al-Sham Front after renouncing its status as Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, but Kerry on Friday stressed that "Nusra is Al-Qaeda, and no name change by Nusra hides what Nusra really is and what it tries to do." 

Kerry's statements related to the Nusra Front's name change, sparked a debate on twitter. A Turkish Twitter user, in reponse to another Twitter user who quoted Kerry's statement said "PYD is PKK. A name change is not going to change that" 

PYD -and its militant wing YPG- is considered by Turkey as the Syrian affiliate of the PKK. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU.

A United Syria

In the same statement, Kerry said the US fully supported a united Syria.

"We do not support an independent Kurd initiative. There has been some limited engagement, as everybody knows, with a component of Kurd fighters on a limited basis, and we cooperated very closely with – with Turkey specifically to make sure that there was a clearer understanding of the rules by which that engagement would take place."


We Do Not Support an Independent Kurd Initiative


He said the Kurds understood this.

Kerry said after Manbij city was liberated, there were other expectations of what will happen next.

"We understand the sensitivities of our friends in Turkey with respect to this. Vice President Biden just visited and had lengthy conversations about it, and we will continue to work together for inclusivity within Syria as we seek a political solution."

In the days ahead the technical teams, which include US and Russian military and intelligence experts, will try to figure out ways to separate the opposition groups, backed by the US and Gulf Arab countries, from the militant groups.

Assad's Future

It was unclear after Friday's meetings whether outstanding issues could all be resolved between Moscow and Washington, which back opposing parties in the Syrian conflict.

The US has insisted that the Syrian regime air force, which has dropped barrel bombs and chlorine on residential areas, be grounded but Lavrov said on Friday that was not the goal.

Assad's future is not part of the current talks. Instead, discussions are focused on finding an effective and lasting solution to end the violence, which would open negotiations on a political transition in Syria.

"If the remaining details can be completed, we believe we will be able to address the two primary challenges to the cessation of hostilities - the regime violations and the increasing influence of the al-Nusra Front," Kerry said.

Kerry believes the plan is the best chance to limit fighting that is driving thousands of Syrians into exile in Europe and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching tens of thousands more.

The talks came as opposition groups effectively surrendered the Damascus suburb of Daraya to the regime after a grueling four-year siege.

Kerry said the Syrian regime had "forced the surrender" of Daraya in contravention of the February cessation of hostilities agreement, but Lavrov said the local accord was an "example" that should be "replicated".

The Russian foreign minister said another besieged area was "interested in such an operation with mediation of the Russian Federation." He did not name the area.

Residents and insurgents in Daraya began to leave the besieged area where civilians have been trapped since 2012 and the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern for their safety.


TRTWorld and agencies