State Department says diplomatic process is still alive but ‘on life support’
WASHINGTON—The U.S. is still pursuing talks with Moscow on the Syria crisis, officials said Friday, days after Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to shut them down over a massive Syrian and Russian military offensive in Aleppo.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that the diplomatic process is difficult to pursue in the midst of the carnage, but said the Obama administration did not want to “definitively close the door yet.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been engaged in diplomatic dialogue with Russia for weeks but has been unable to stop the bombing by Assad’s forces and the Russian air force.
Mr. Toner described the diplomatic process as “on life support, but it’s not flat-lined yet” and said the U.S. could walk away in hours or days. The two powers agreed early in September on a cease-fire and military cooperation plan, but the deal fell apart after about a week.
This report came in on Saturday:
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Mr. Kerry spoke to his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for the third time in three days on Friday. The discussion took place as Mr. Kerry was traveling back from Israel, where he had attended the funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres along with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials.
Mr. Kerry first warned Mr. Lavrov in a phone call Wednesday that the U.S. would walk away from talks with Moscow on Syria if Russia didn’t take immediate steps to reinstate the cease-fire and allow the passage of humanitarian aid.
The U.S. provided few details about Friday’s talks. A Russian account said Mr. Lavrov told Mr. Kerry that Moscow remains open to dialogue, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
In an interview with the BBC that aired Friday, Mr. Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s complaint that the U.S. has failed to separate opposition fighters supported by Washington from members of the Syrian Conquest Front, formerly known as the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
“We have more and more reasons to believe that from the very beginning the plan was to spare Nusra and to keep it just in case for Plan B or stage two when it would be time to change the regime,” Mr. Lavrov said.
People in Aleppo try to rescue the wounded
Mr. Toner dismissed Mr. Lavrov’s charge as “absurd.” But he said the Syrian offensive in Aleppo, backed by Russia, had forced some opposition fighters “into the arms” of extremists.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the Obama administration has revived an internal “Plan B” debate over whether to give vetted Syrian rebels more arms and allow regional allies to provide them with more powerful weapons systems.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that he is establishing an internal U.N. Board of Inquiry to investigate the attack on an aid convoy on Sept. 19 that contributed to the collapse of the cease-fire.
Syria — Destroyed aid trucks stand near the rebel-held town of Urum al-Kubra. The attack was on September 19. This photo was taken on September 20, 2016. The US, UK and France said Russia bombed the humanitarian aid convoy. Russia denied the charge. Reuters
The attack, which the U.S. and its allies have blamed on Russia and Syria, occurred near eastern Aleppo. The U.N. said 18 people had been killed, including the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the area.
—Farnaz Fassihi contributed to this article.
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