Scrambling to resuscitate a nearly dead truce in Syria, the Obama administration has again been forced to turn to Russia for help, with little hope for the desired U.S. outcome.
At stake are thousands of lives and the fate of a feeble peace process essential to the fight against the Islamic State group, and Secretary of State John Kerry has appealed once more to his Russian counterpart for assistance in containing and reducing the violence, particularly around the city of Aleppo.
“We are talking directly to the Russians, even now,” Kerry said on his arrival in Geneva as he began talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. “The hope is we can make some progress, but the UN Security Council Resolution calls for a full country, countrywide, cessation and also for all of the country to be accessible to humanitarian assistance. Obviously that hasn’t happened and isn’t happening.”
“These are critical hours. We look for Russia’s cooperation. We obviously look for the regime to listen to Russia and to respond to the international communities’ powerful statement to the UN Security Council.”
Kerry spoke at length on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to that end, and had been hoping to meet with Lavrov soon, according to U.S. officials.
But Lavrov was not expected to be in Geneva, complicating Kerry’s efforts to make the case directly to the Russians for more pressure on their Syrian government allies to stop or at least limit attacks in Aleppo.
The State Department said Kerry, in his meetings, would “review ongoing efforts to reaffirm the cessation of hostilities nationwide in Syria, obtain the full humanitarian access to which the Syrian government committed and support a political transition.”
Specific, viable options to achieve those broad goals are limited, and Friday’s announcement of a new, partial cease-fire that does not include Aleppo underscored the difficulty Kerry faced.
U.S. and other officials described that initiative, brokered mainly by Russia and the United States as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group, as a “reinforcement” of the February truce, now largely in tatters, that they hope to extend from Damascus and the capital’s suburbs and the coastal province of Latakia to other areas.
“This is an agreement within the task force, but certainly on the part of the U.S. and Russia that there would be a reinforcement of the cessation of hostilities in these specific areas as a start, with the expectation that this … would be then extended elsewhere,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Syria’s military extended a unilateral cease-fire around the capital for another 24 hours on Sunday, and relative calm set in across much of the country after days of heavy fighting concentrated in Aleppo.