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US-Russia Fall Short on Syria Truce    08/27 10:14

   The United States and Russia say they have resolved a number of issues 
standing in the way of restoring a nationwide truce to Syria and opening up aid 
deliveries, but were unable once again to forge a comprehensive agreement on 
stepping up cooperation to end the brutal war that has killed hundreds of 
thousands.

   GENEVA (AP) -- The United States and Russia say they have resolved a number 
of issues standing in the way of restoring a nationwide truce to Syria and 
opening up aid deliveries, but were unable once again to forge a comprehensive 
agreement on stepping up cooperation to end the brutal war that has killed 
hundreds of thousands.

   After meeting off-and-on for nearly 10 hours in Geneva on Friday, U.S. 
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov could 
point to only incremental progress in filling in details of a broad 
understanding to boost joint efforts that was reached last month in Moscow.

   Their failure to reach an overall deal highlighted the increasingly complex 
situation on the ground in Syria --- including new Russian-backed Syrian 
government attacks on opposition forces, the intermingling of some of those 
opposition forces with an al-Qaida affiliate not covered by the truce and the 
surrender of a rebel-held suburb of Damascus --- as well as deep divisions and 
mistrust dividing Washington and Moscow.

   The complexities have also grown with the increasing internationalization of 
what has largely become a proxy war between regional and world powers, 
highlighted by a move by Turkish troops across the Syrian border against 
Islamic State fighters this week.

   Kerry said he and Lavrov had agreed on the "vast majority" of technical 
discussions on steps to reinstate a cease-fire and improve humanitarian access. 
But critical sticking points remain unresolved and experts will remain in 
Geneva with an eye toward finalizing those in the coming days, he said.

   "We are close," Kerry said. "But we are not going to rush to an agreement 
until it satisfies fully the needs of the Syrian people."

   Lavrov echoed that, saying "we still need to finalize a few issues" and 
pointed to the need to separate fighters from the al-Nusra Front, which has 
ties to al-Qaida, from U.S.-backed fighters who hold parts of northwest Syria.

   "We have continued our efforts to reduce the areas where we lack 
understanding and trust, which is an achievement," Lavrov said. "The mutual 
trust is growing with every meeting."

   Yet, it was clear that neither side believes an overall agreement is 
imminent or even achievable after numerous previous disappointments shattered a 
brief period of relative calm earlier this year.

   The inability to wrest an agreement between Russia and the U.S. --- as the 
major sponsors of the opposing sides in the stalled Syria peace talks --- all 
but spells another missed deadline for the U.N. Syria envoy to get the Syrian 
government and "moderate" opposition back to the table.

   The U.N. envoy, Staffan de Mistura, briefly sat in Friday with Kerry and 
Lavrov. After missing an initial target date of Aug. 1, de Mistura had hoped to 
restart the intra-Syrian discussions toward political transition in late 
August. He suspended the talks in late April after a resurgence in the fighting.

   Friday's meeting came a month after the Kerry and Lavrov met in Moscow and 
agreed on a number of unspecified actions to get the all-but-ignored truce back 
in force. However, as in Moscow, neither Kerry nor Lavrov would describe them 
in detail.

   In a nod to previous failed attempts to resurrect the cessation of 
hostilities, Kerry stressed the importance of keeping the details secret.

   "We do not want to make an announcement ... that is not enforceable, that 
doesn't have details worked out, that winds up in the place that the last two 
announcements have wound up," Kerry said. "Until we have, neither of us are 
prepared to make an announcement that is predicated for failure. We don't want 
a deal for the sake of the deal, we want a deal that is effective."

   And, underscoring deep differences over developments on the ground, Kerry 
noted that Russia disputes the U.S. "narrative" of recent attacks on heavily 
populated areas being conducted by Syrian forces, Russia itself and the 
Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia. Russia maintains the attacks it has been 
involved in have targeted legitimate terrorist targets, while the U.S. says 
they have hit moderate opposition forces.

   Expectations had been low for the talks, particularly given how efforts to 
forge a new U.S.-Russia understanding have fallen short virtually every month 
for the past five years.

   At the same time, the Obama administration is not of one mind regarding the 
Russians. The Pentagon has publicly complained about getting drawn into greater 
cooperation with Russia even though it has been forced recently to expand 
communication with Moscow. Last week, the U.S. had to call for Russian help 
when Syrian warplanes struck an area not far from where U.S. troops were 
operating.

   U.S. officials say it is imperative that Russia use its influence with 
Syrian President Bashar Assad to halt all attacks on moderate opposition 
forces, open humanitarian aid corridors, and concentrate any offensive action 
on the Islamic State group and other extremists not covered by what has become 
a largely ignored truce.

   For their part, U.S. officials say they are willing to press rebels groups 
they support harder on separating themselves from the Islamic State and 
al-Nusra, which despite a recent name change is still viewed as al-Qaida's 
affiliate in Syria.

   Those goals are not new, but recent developments have made achieving them 
even more urgent and important, according to U.S. officials. Recent 
developments include military operations around the city of Aleppo, the entry 
of Turkey into the ground war, Turkish hostility toward U.S.-backed Kurdish 
rebel groups and the presence of American military advisers in widening 
conflict zones.

   Meanwhile, in a blow to the opposition, rebel forces and civilians in the 
besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya were to be evacuated on Friday after 
agreeing to surrender the town late Thursday after four years of grueling 
bombardment and a crippling siege that left the sprawling area in ruins.

   The surrender of Daraya, which became an early symbol of the nascent 
uprising against Assad, marks a success for his government, removing a 
persistent threat only a few miles from his seat of power.

   Referring to Daraya, Lavrov said: "This is an example I think will get some 
following." He said the Russian military's reconciliation center in Syria has 
received a request from another area to organize a similar operation --- with 
Russian mediation.


(KA)

 
 
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