US, Russia Resume High-level Face-to-Face Diplomacy on Syria War
By Steve Herman September 09, 2016
An American official says U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "are making progress in Geneva Friday towards advancing proposals that would lead to a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria."
The United States is also pushing a deal that would allow "sustained and unimpeded access" to humanitarian assistance for the most desperate areas of the country.
"We are not in a position right now to say where or not a final can be reached," according to a State Department official accompanying Kerry.
Discussions are continuing with "technical issues" unresolved.
A key one, it has been revealed, involves ensuring "there will not be a siege of Aleppo," according to a second State Department official who earlier spoke to reporters aboard Kerry's plane.
Kerry spoke by telephone with Lavrov at least four times Wednesday and Thursday before flying back to Switzerland for Friday's talks.
There is considerable skepticism that a nationwide, sustainable cease-fire - the immediate goals as it has been repeatedly characterized by State Department officials - can hold for any period of time.
Syria is fractured after five years of war. There are numerous client forces of questionable allegiance and discipline pitted against each other, in addition to the so-called Islamic State group, which is beholden to no one.
Russia wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power while moderate opposition forces and Turkey insist there can be no transition deal that retains him for any period of time.
The United States long-held stance is that the Syrian leader, for his brutal acts, cannot lead any future government.
U.S. diplomats, however, express hope diplomacy can end the bloodshed, sustained misery and mass migration.
"The opposition tells us they want us to succeed" in order "to get the bombs to stop falling on them," said another State Department official with Kerry.
No military solution
U.S. diplomats have stressed in recent days that Kerry does not have unlimited patience and he was unlikely to remain longer in Geneva – his second visit in two weeks – if an agreement is not reached quickly.
Officials with Kerry decline to speculate on what could happen next if the talks fail.
The Obama administration has repeatedly stated there is no military solution to bringing the crisis to an end.
Protracted opposition against the four-decade rule of the Assad family has deteriorated into a complex civil war. The violence has left dead hundreds of thousands of Syrians and 12 million people – more than half of the country's pre-war population – has been displaced, according to the United Nations.
The U.S. leads a coalition conducting air strikes in Syria against the so-called Islamic State group. Russia, a long-time backer of the Assad family, has also conducted air strikes that often target forces deemed an immediate threat to the Syrian government.
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