No breakthrough after fresh talks to end Syrian war

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry give a joint press conference after a meeting on the situation in Syria at Lancaster House in London on Oct 16, 2016.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry give a joint press conference after a meeting on the situation in Syria at Lancaster House in London on Oct 16, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

But main players agree Syrians should decide own future through dialogue, says Russia

LAUSANNE • US Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to build momentum behind a new drive to end the civil war in Syria yesterday after high-level talks with Russia and the country's neighbours.

The talks ended without a breakthrough, but Russia said yesterday all participants had agreed that Syrians should decide their own future through inclusive dialogue and that the country should remain whole and secular.

Mr Kerry flew to London to brief Washington's European allies after the "brainstorming" talks in Lausanne with the main players in Syria's bloody five-year-old conflict.

The Swiss meeting did not produce a concrete plan to restore the truce that collapsed last month amid bitter recriminations between Washington and Moscow and new fighting on the ground.

But Mr Kerry insisted the new, leaner contact group had come up with some plausible ideas that would be fleshed out in the coming days and might lead to a new, stronger ceasefire.

"The way it wrapped up was to have several ideas that need to be quickly followed up," he said after talks with Russia, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. "The next contact on trying to follow up on this is going to be immediately, because this is urgent, and we're not letting any grass grow under our feet."

Britain, France, Germany and Italy are members of the International Syria Support Group and have held talks with other countries interested in resolving the Syrian crisis.

But US officials now say the full group is too unwieldy to make rapid decisions.

But he said it was too early to reveal what the ideas were, and that high-level contacts - but not a ministerial-level meeting - would continue today to develop them.

He was expected, however, to raise the issues with Britain's Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and senior European colleagues, after flying to London.

Britain, France, Germany and Italy are members of the International Syria Support Group and have held talks with other countries interested in resolving the Syrian crisis.

But US officials now say the full group is too unwieldy to make rapid decisions, and that Saturday's Lausanne meeting was more productive for being focused on the main regional players.

The US envoy's tone was upbeat, but diplomats from all sides warned against hopes of a rapid ceasefire.

And, away from the talks, Moscow's actions showed no sign that it might be softening its strong support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his campaign against US-backed rebels.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that in order for a US-Russian ceasefire agreement to succeed and to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries, Syria's moderate opposition must separate from Jabhat Fatah al Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front, and other "terrorist groups" affiliated with it.

"At the same time, it should be understood that operations against terrorists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Nusra Front will be continued," the ministry said.

Mr Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, once joint sponsors of international peace efforts, met ahead of the broader talks, but US officials insisted that their "bilateral track" remained dead.

Mr Lavrov joined Mr Kerry in welcoming the idea of bringing other powers into the mix, saying "we must prolong our contacts over the coming days".

President Barack Obama has been adamant that US forces will not become caught up in the war and Mr Kerry was hoping that talks with Russia and regional powers may yield new ideas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that his country does not seek confrontation with the United States and he would work with any US leader willing to work with Russia.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2016, with the headline 'No breakthrough after fresh talks to end Syrian war'. Print Edition | Subscribe