G-20 Summit

US, Russia struggling to reach Syria ceasefire deal: Obama

Grave differences remain, says US President; both sides plan to continue talks today

The United States and Russia will work in the next few days on a deal to curb fighting in Syria.
Mr Kerry (left) and Mr Lavrov at a bilateral meeting in Hangzhou, China, yesterday. A senior US State Department official said Russia walked back on some issues that both sides had agreed on.
Mr Kerry (left) and Mr Lavrov at a bilateral meeting in Hangzhou, China, yesterday. A senior US State Department official said Russia walked back on some issues that both sides had agreed on.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

HANGZHOU/BEIRUT • US President Barack Obama has said the United States and Russia are struggling to reach a ceasefire agreement on Syria as the two sides plan to meet again today.

"We're not there yet," Mr Obama told reporters after a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou.

"We have grave differences with the Russians in terms of both the parties we support but also the process that is required to bring about peace in Syria," he said.

On the battlefront, the fighting continued to rage. Syrian government forces and their allies scored an important victory by recapturing areas in south-western Aleppo that rebels had seized last month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

An agreement that would stop the fighting and allow more humanitarian deliveries looked set to be announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Hangzhou.

Two lecterns had been set up in a room for a news conference. But Mr Kerry emerged alone to say that a couple of issues still needed to be resolved and the two sides would resume talks today. He did not elaborate. Officials from the US and Russia, which back opposite sides in Syria's five-year-old civil war, have been meeting since Mr Kerry travelled to Moscow in July with a proposal that would halt the fighting.

It would ensure that government fighters pull back in some areas, including around Aleppo, to allow convoys of humanitarian aid to reach civilians caught in the fighting. The ceasefire would be overseen through Russian-US intelligence-sharing and military cooperation that would focus on going after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other militant groups.

The plan would need Russia to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to agree on grounding his air force, a move that Mr Lavrov has said was not the goal.

The war has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced 11 million, causing a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, and contributed to a rise in militant groups.

Moscow has backed Mr Assad in the war and Russian warplanes have targeted the opposition for nearly a year, while Washington has supported some rebel groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army to topple him.

A truce brokered by the Cold War foes in February broke down and peace talks between the government and opposition ended in April with both sides trading the blame.

Fighting has since escalated in many areas, especially around Aleppo in the north. Mr Kerry said he would not rush into any agreement just to see it fail again.

A senior State Department official, who declined to be named, said Russia walked back on some of the issues that the two sides had already agreed on, which is why both sides need to continue talking.

Said Mr Obama: "If we do not get some buy-in from the Russians on reducing the violence and easing the humanitarian crisis, then it's difficult to see how we get to the next phase."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'US, Russia struggling to reach Syria ceasefire deal: Obama'. Subscribe