US, Russia Launch Cease-fire Talks; No UN Action on Turkey
by Pamela Dockins, Margaret Besheer February 19, 2016
The U.S. and Russia have launched talks on brokering a cease-fire in Syria after failing to make Friday's scheduled deadline for a pause in fighting.
Officials from the two countries sat down for talks in Geneva late Friday to try to find a way for a long-term cessation of hostilities that would help efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged areas.
The 17-nation International Syria Support Group agreed to form a Syria cease-fire task force, under the auspices of the U.N., during a meeting last Friday in Munich. The group agreed that Russia and the U.S. would co-chair the task force.
Under the group's plan, an initial cessation of hostilities would begin in one week, while the task force worked out the mechanics of a broader cease-fire plan.
Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the challenges for reaching a deal.
'Everyone recognizes the complexity of this endeavor, and there is certainly a lot more work to do,' he said during a stop in London en route to Amman, where he planned to discuss Syria's crisis with Jordanian officials.
The Syrian opposition has said it wants a cease-fire and an expansion of humanitarian aid to besieged areas before it resumes U.N.-facilitated talks with the Syrian government.
Those proximity talks, which were due to resume February 25, have now been delayed.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. agrees with the Syrian opposition that a cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian assistance would be 'helpful,' but believes the talks should resume with no preconditions.
Meanwhile, a Russian effort to muster U.N. Security Council condemnation of Turkey's actions on the Syrian-Turkish border appeared to fail Friday.
Russia called for an urgent meeting of the council to discuss its concerns that Turkey may be planning to send ground troops into Syria. The Russian delegation presented a one-page draft resolution that would condemn such a move. It also 'strongly' condemned cross-border shelling, the flow of terrorist fighters and the illegal movement of weapons from Syria's 'neighbors.'
'The main elements of this Russian draft resolution are to demand all parties – all parties – refrain from interfering in internal affairs of Syria, to fully respect sovereignty and independence, stop incursions, and abandon plans of ground operations,' Russia's deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told reporters after the closed-door meeting.
But diplomats said at least six of the 15 council members rejected the resolution outright when it was presented and only one member – Venezuela – expressed support.
One diplomat said that even China – which normally allies its position with Russia on many council issues – expressed reluctance, saying it would have to wait for instructions from Beijing before expressing an opinion.
'What's really important is that, rather than trying to distract the world with the resolution they just laid down, it would be really great if Russia would implement the resolution it's already agreed to,' U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a reference to Resolution 2254, which the council adopted in December.
That resolution lays out a framework for starting political talks and, in parallel, establishing a nationwide cease-fire in Syria. So far, attempts to implement the resolution have failed.
'We have a resolution on the books. It's the right resolution. We've committed ourselves to it, and we need Russia to do the same,' Power added.
Turkey's U.N. envoy, Yaşar Halit Çevik, dismissed Russian allegations that Ankara is planning on launching a ground operation in Syria.
'Our political leaders are quite open in saying that Turkey will not be going into Syria with boots on the ground if it is not a collective action,' he told reporters.
He said Turkey would consider military intervention only if the Security Council or the international coalition called for it.
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