Sept. 4, 2016 1:02 a.m. ET
HANGZHOU, China—U.S. President Barack Obama said it is possible that the U.S. and Russia will reach another agreement to reduce violence in Syria and provide humanitarian aid, though he cautioned there was no “clear path forward.”
Mr. Obama, speaking at a news conference Sunday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, said he is skeptical that Russia would hold up its end of a deal but that its doing so would be a precursor to a broader agreement on Syria.
“It is a very complicated piece of business,” Mr. Obama said. “These are difficult negotiations. We have grave differences with the Russians in terms of both the parties we support but also the process that’s required to bring about peace in Syria.”
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“But if we do not get some buy-in from the Russians on reducing the violence and easing the humanitarian crisis it’s difficult to see how we get to the next phase,” he said, adding: “It’s premature to say there’s a clear path forward but there’s a possibility at least for us to make progress.”
Mr. Obama’s comments come as he shifts focus to the conflict in Syria on his second day in China, where he is to attend the Group of 20 summit. In addition to Mrs. May, Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and to have an informal discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. has entered into cease-fire agreements with Russia in the past, only to have them unravel.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to announce a new agreement on Syria later on Sunday. Mr. Kerry presented a plan for greater military cooperation in Syria in Moscow in July.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in happier times while they were working on the Iran nuclear deal.
His proposal calls for sharing information and coordinating air attacks against the Syria Conquest Front, formerly known as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, in exchange for grounding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force. The Syrian regime would halt its air operations and U.S. and Russian air operations would target only Islamic State and the Syria Conquest Front.
The overall goal, U.S. officials have said, is to solve the two main problems that have scuttled a cease-fire agreement reached in February: sustained cease-fire violations by the Assad regime and the increasing influence of the Syria Conquest Front, formerly Nusra.
U.S. officials have said they need to see a calm in fighting and humanitarian access before the U.S. would begin greater coordination with Russia. Russia, for its part, has said it would only agree to the accord if the U.S. could separate Syria Conquest Front fighters from rebel forces on the ground, who have grown increasingly intertwined, especially in Aleppo.
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