15 hours and “no guarantees”: Russia and US agree on Syria ceasefire


– September 11, 2016 – Fort Russ News – 

RIA Novosti – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Negotiations on Syria between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry have concluded in Geneva. 

The meeting between the two countries’ foreign department heads broke records for duration, lasting more than 15 hours and including continuous pauses. The main intrigue that kept foreign journalists tense during the meeting was whether or not the diplomats would reach an agreement on settling the conflict in Syria. 

As a result of the talks, the Russian Federation and United States of America gave a joint press conference at which they outlined their plan for a future agreement. This agreement, according to the American side’s assurances, promises to be “enduring,” but only if the regime and Syrian opposition will be able to stick to their promises.

The longest talks ever

Russia has been holding consultations with the US on devising an algorithm for coordinating operations in Syria. The parties discussed steps to assist in settling the conflict, including the task of strengthening the cessation of military hostilities and Russian-American cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups. 

The current Geneva round of talks between Russia and the US, similar to the previous round, was held in the President Wilson Hotel. The meeting, during which the two countries’ ministers went for breaks several times and held bilateral talks with the UN’s secretary general’s special representative for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, became the longest of its kind. 

The previous record was set in July in Moscow, when the meeting lasted 12 hours. As a source in the Russian delegation informed journalists earlier, Moscow in fact waited 5 hours for a response from the American side to its proposals for regulating the conflict in Syria.

These proposals, according to the source, were sent to Washington. Lavrov stated that he hoped to receive an answer before everyone in Washington “goes to bed.” 

“Our friends took five hours to agree with Washington. I think that coordinating with Washington is important for them. I apologize for the delay, but there was nothing we could do,” the head of Russia’s foreign ministry said. 

A detailed and strict plan

At the very beginning of the joint press conference, Lavrov and Kerry announced their plan which should allow the violence in Syria to be reduced and peace talks be set in motion again. Overall, they agreed on five documents, each of which was designed to establish conditions for the resumption of the political process in the Syrian Arab Republic.

“Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering, and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria. And we believe that the plan as it is set forth – if implemented, if followed – has the ability to provide a turning point, a moment of change,” the US Secretary of State said. 

In particular, according to the announced plan, Moscow and Washington have agreed that the Syrian Armed Forces cannot fly combat missions over territories controlled by the opposition.

Kerry said: “This step is absolutely essential. It is a bedrock of this agreement. And by all accounts, the Assad air attacks have been the main driver of civilian casualties and migration flows and the most frequent violations of the hostilities. Halting all of the regime’s military air activities in key areas, key areas that are defined – not all flights, because there are still Nusrah and ISIL, but that will be managed in a different way also. And that should put an end to the barrel bombs, an end to the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian neighborhoods.” 

Kerry also emphasized that the ceasefire should be extended to include Aleppo. Otherwise, the Russian-US agreement on Syria will be threatened. “Now, this requires halting all attacks, including aerial bombardments and any attempts to gain additional territory at the expense of the parties to the cessation. It requires unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all of the besieged and the hard-to-reach areas, including Aleppo,” he stressed. 

Singling out terrorists

One of the main statements of the head of American diplomacy was the thesis that it is necessary to distinguish between the opposition and terrorists – something which Moscow has repeatedly urged before. Kerry remarked: “ If groups within the legitimate opposition want to retain their legitimacy, they need to distance themselves in every way possible from Nusrah and Daesh.” 

This distance, in his opinion, will be supported by a special expert center involving military and intelligence services established in order to ensure the maintenance of the ceasefire. 

However, Kerry remarked that the possibility of starting real dialogue between the conflict’s parties requires at least a 7-day cessation of hostilities in the country. 

In this regard, the US Secretary of State noted, today the US and Russia “are calling on all sides to recommit to a nationwide cessation of hostilities.” In his words, “This will be effective at sundown on September 12th.” 

According to the statement of the head of the Russian foreign ministry, the task of distinguishing between terrorists and the opposition in Syria is set forth in the US-Russian agreement as a key element. The Syrian leadership, in turn, is familiar with these agreements and is ready to fulfill them, Lavrov stated.

No 100% guarantees 

Russia and the US are to undertake everything in their power to achieve compliance with such agreements by all sides, Lavrov stated. According to him, the main content of these agreements will be presented to the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and at the UN Security Council with the expectation that both organizations will support them.

Lavrov remarked that the working out of these agreements, however, was prevented by a “profound lack of trust between the Russian Federation and the USA,” such as on the “Syrian dossier” and other issues. Lavrov stressed that there are also many who wanted to disrupt the adoption of today’s agreements. 

“The latest example – and we talked about this with John – was the arrogant announcement of sanctions just ahead of our presidents’ meetings in China and, another point, the additional sanctions imposed after their meeting just before our meeting today. Nevertheless, we are not resentful, we have clearly stated our position and believe that the settlement of the Syrian crisis is not a topic for speculation, unlike how it is seen by some.” 

Lavrov also added that “no one can give” a 100% guarantee that the agreements will be realized.

“As I have already said, there are too many players involved in this puzzle, and the interests of a whole number of them are diametrically opposite. However, the fact that we were able to create the International Syria Support Group, in which participate all countries without exception who are influencing the situation in one way or another, including Saudi Arabia and Iran – I think this is a great achievement,” the Russian minister stated. 

A “Window of opportunity” 

The UN’s special envoy on Syria, Staffan di Mistura, welcomed the Russian-US agreement on Syria, stating that it opens a “window of opportunity” for the settlement of the conflict in the country. 

“The UN welcomes the mutual understanding which foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and secretary of state John Kerry announced today…We also welcome the fact that the Russian Federation and United States are really ready to work together to beat the Islamic State and Jebat al-Nusra,” he noted.

Di Mistura also stressed that the UN is ready to provide “all possible assistance to stop the violence.” 

“This was a big, long day, but it yielded good results,” di Mistura summarized.  

The armed confrontation in Syria has been ongoing since March 2011. As a result, according to the UN, more than 220,000 people have been killed. Efforts to settle the Syrian conflict involve almost all major world powers, first and foremost, Russia and the US. 

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