U.S., Russia Hold Talks to End Aleppo blockade With Kerry ‘Hopeful’
Syria’s six-year-old war dominated discussions on the sidelines of the conference in Germany, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Kerry both meeting Lavrov late Wednesday. Steinmeier pushed for an immediate cease-fire to allow for humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo and a return to a political process, the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The exchanges add to pressure from the west as Syrian forces and their allies push deeper into rebel-held sections of Aleppo, where they’ve seized 70 percent of territory previously controlled by opposition fighters. The U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Canada issued a joint statement Wednesday condemning the assault and singling out Russia for preventing humanitarian access.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks on Syria and said he was “hopeful” about halting the siege of Aleppo, where government forces have tightened their grip on the opposition stronghold.“We are working on something,” Kerry told reporters after one-on-one talks with Lavrov during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Hamburg on Thursday.“We are ready to consider additional restrictive measures against individuals and entities that act for or on behalf of the Syrian regime,” according to the statement. The tension between the Kremlin and the U.S. and European allies spilled over to the OSCE meeting, with Lavrov citing the “myth of a Russian threat.”Lavrov Retort
“We urge an end to warlike rhetoric, which continues every day,” Lavrov told the group, referring to NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory. “If you want to invite your partners for dialogue, then you shouldn’t start with accusations and demands to hold dialogue based on ultimatums.” Earlier, Kerry and Lavrov discussed “multilateral efforts to achieve a cessation of hostilities in Aleppo” and the delivery of humanitarian aid, the State Department said in a statement.
A number of Syrian rebel factions asked for a five-day pause to fighting to allow for the evacuation of civilians and the wounded, the Associated Press reported. The rebel statement made no mention of a pullout of militants as demanded by Russia, the AP said. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Thursday that the U.S. and Russia were moving close to an agreement on Aleppo, Interfax reported. Lavrov said in Moscow on Tuesday that the “terrorists” holed up in Aleppo will be “destroyed” if they “refuse to leave nicely.”
Capturing Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital and once its biggest city, would hand Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad control of all major urban centers, marking a turning point in the war. Russia’s military intervention in September 2015 averted the Syrian leadership’s collapse and allowed Assad’s forces to decisively push back rebel forces. Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal. Steinmeier, the meeting’s host, called the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine “unacceptable.” Kerry called for “full implementation” of the so-called Minsk accord that sets out a cease-fire and political measures on Ukraine.