Posts Tagged ‘Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’

Talks Aim to Put Summit With North Korea on Track

May 31, 2018

Differences remain on the terms on which the North might give up its nuclear arsenal

North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, left, met in New York Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center.
North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, left, met in New York Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center. PHOTO: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened two days of high-level talks with a senior North Korean official Wednesday night, as the Trump administration tries to establish whether there is enough common ground to proceed with a summit meeting in Singapore next month.

The discussions began with a dinner Mr. Pompeo hosted for Gen. Kim Yong Chol, who is often described as the right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and is making his first visit to the U.S. His arrival on Wednesday made him the highest-ranking North Korean to visit the U.S. in 18 years.

Mr. Pompeo and Gen. Kim are planning to meet for more in-depth talks Thursday.

“We want to see if we have the makings of a successful summit,” said a senior State Department official.

With less than two weeks left before the planned June 12 summit, significant differences remain over the terms on which Pyongyang might give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances and economic relief.

In a sobering assessment in Seoul, a senior South Korean official warned that a deal between Washington and Pyongyang still faced big obstacles.

“The differences between North Korea and the U.S. remain quite significant. It won’t be easy to narrow the gap and find common ground, but I think it would not be impossible,” the South’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said in a speech to European diplomats on Wednesday.

Public statements by each side indicate that one major obstacle is the pace of disarmament. The U.S. is pushing the regime to commit to “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization as quickly as possible, while the North Korean leader, Mr. Kim, has described a more phased process involving concessions from both sides at each stage.

U.S. officials declined to spell out the details of the ongoing talks but they didn’t minimize the challenge of narrowing the differences between the two sides so that a summit can take place.

“In order for a summit to be successful the North Koreans have to do things that they have not done before,” the senior State Department official said. “We are looking for something historic.”

Mr. Pompeo’s dinner meeting took place as a U.S. advance team met Wednesday in Singapore with North Korean officials to discuss logistical preparations. A separate U.S. team led by U.S. ambassador Sung Kim, which has been meeting with North Korean officials at the truce village of Panmunjom, is also continuing its work, the State Department spokesman said.

Plans for a summit were briefly shelved last week when President Donald Trump sent the North Korean leader, Mr. Kim, a letter complaining about the “open hostility” of the North Korean regime.

That was followed by a statement by Kim Kye Gwan, a senior North Korean foreign ministry official, who expressed Pyongyang’s willingness to “resolve issues anytime and in any format.” The State Department official on Wednesday described it as the most conciliatory North Korea statement in recent memory.

There has been speculation in the South Korean media that Gen. Kim may be carrying a letter for Mr. Trump. U.S. officials. U.S. officials haven’t confirmed those reports and suggested the U.S. is still working to persuade the North Korea that its security doesn’t depend on nuclear weapons.

The task of obtaining clarification before a potential summit of what steps Pyongyang would be willing to take is also a challenge.

“Between now and if we are going to have a summit they are going to have to make clear what they’re willing to do,” the State Department official said.

The U.S. isn’t the only diplomatic player. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to arrive in Pyongyang on Thursday for talks with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho.

With the U.S. and North Korea locked in discussions on several fronts, Seoul, having helped drive the detente, is now largely watching from the sidelines.

“South Korea has played a mediator role, but now the ball has left Seoul’s court,” said Hwang Jae-ho, a professor of international studies at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. “Just as President Trump told Kim Jong Un to directly write or call him, South Korea can no longer be seen as an active player in the discussions.”

Write to Michael R. Gordon at and Andrew Jeong at

Corrections & Amplifications 
An earlier version of this article misspelled Kim Kye Gwan’s name as Kim Key Gwan. (May 31, 2018)

Appeared in the May 31, 2018, print edition.


Key North Korea official meets Pompeo in New York

May 31, 2018

North Korea’s longtime spy chief and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had dinner together in New York City on Wednesday night as the rogue nation’s shadowy official tries to salvage a potential summit between the two countries’ leaders.

Kim Yong Chol, Kim’s infamous right-hand man and a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party, met with Pompeo after he arrived at JFK International Airport around 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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BBC News

handout photograph from US Department of State shows Kim Yong-chol (L), vice chairman of North Korea, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) on May 30, 2018 in New York

Until recently, Kim Yong-chol (left) was blacklisted in the United States. AFP photo

The right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York to discuss a historic summit.

Gen Kim Yong-chol dined with Mr Pompeo after flying in from China, and the two are due to meet again on Thursday.

He is the most senior North Korean to visit the US in nearly 20 years.

US President Donald Trump cancelled the 12 June summit, but both sides have since made fresh efforts to hold it as planned.

Scheduled to happen in Singapore, the historic meeting between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-un would be the first between sitting US and North Korean leaders.

What do we know of the first meeting?

The talks in New York, 30 May
They met in an apartment on New York’s East Side. AFP photo

On Wednesday evening, Mr Pompeo and Gen Kim arrived separately at a building close to the UN headquarters.

Emerging later, Mr Pompeo tweeted: “Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu.”

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Pompeo had set out the US position.

North Korea has strongly objected to statements by Trump administration members comparing North Korean denuclearisation to Libya’s.

Image result for Kim Yong Chol, pompeo, photos

Former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi gave up his nuclear programme only for him to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later.

Further talks are planned for Thursday.

What other talks are going on?

North Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui is continuing to meet Sung Kim, a former US ambassador to South Korea, at Panmunjom on the border between the two Koreas.

These talks have been continuing since Sunday with some long breaks.

Media caption: The nuclear word Trump and Kim can’t agree on

The two diplomats have faced one another before during previous denuclearisation negotiations.

In Singapore itself, a US team led by White House official Joe Hagin is thought to be meeting Kim Chang-son, the de facto chief of staff to the North Korean leader, to talk about logistics.

Kim Chang-son in Singapore, 30 May
Kim Chang-son is in Singapore. Reuters

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has arrived in Pyongyang for talks. He told Russian media he wanted to understand North Korea’s position.

Mr Lavrov also spoke to Mr Pompeo for the first time on Wednesday, by phone.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders confirmed the US and North Korean leaders still planned to meet next month.

“As the president says, if it happens, we’ll certainly be ready,” she said.

Presentational grey line

Salvaging a summit?

By Barbara Plett Usher, BBC state department correspondent in New York

Just months ago the idea that this powerful North Korean official could visit New York was unthinkable. Until recently Kim Yong-chol was blacklisted in the US.

A senior state department official said he and Mr Pompeo were trying to get to know each other after initial meetings in Pyongyang earlier this year.

But he also said they needed to reduce the gap between them over the extent and pace of nuclear disarmament before the summit could go ahead. He also acknowledged that the US had to find a way to convince the North Korean leadership it would be secure without such weapons.

But this high-level meeting shows that President Trump and Kim Jong-un want the summit to take place, and therefore many believe these two men will find a way to make it happen.

Presentational grey line


Syria and Russia say withdrawal of Iran, Hezbollah ‘not on agenda’

May 23, 2018

Syria’s deputy foreign minister said Wednesday Damascus did not envisage Iran and Hezbollah participating in the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country as announced last week by Russia.

Asked whether the removal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces could end Israel’s strikes on Syria, Faisal Mekdad told RIA Novosti state news agency that “this topic is not even on the agenda for discussion.”

“All these forces oppose terrorism. They are not making an attempt to violate the sovereignty and territory of Syria,” he said in comments translated into Russian.

Image result for Lavrov, Photos

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Thursday, with the Russian leader saying “foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory” although he gave few details.

But Russia’s chief Syria negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev later told journalists that the withdrawal of foreign troops should be done “as a whole” and include Iranians and Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese group that is an ally of Iran and Assad.

“We are talking about all the foreign troop divisions which still have troops in Syrian territory. That includes the Americans and the Turks and Hezbollah, of course, and the Iranians,” Lavrentyev said on Friday, quoted by RIA Novosti.

Mekdad, however, suggested Russia had not meant to say this.

“I don’t think that our Russian friends meant the forces that entered Syria in agreement with the Syrian government,” he said.

“Russia demanded the withdrawal of forces that are here without agreement: that is the forces of the US, France, Turkey and other forces that are here illegitimately.”

Russia and Iran are both allied with Assad. Together with rebel-supporting Turkey, they have been brokering peace talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital, running in parallel to talks supervised by the United Nations.

Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was acting on the basis that both Hezbollah and the Iranians, “just like the Russian air forces, are in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government.”


Iran warns Trump to remain in nuclear deal or ‘face severe consequences’

April 24, 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday to stay in the nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers in 2015, or face “severe consequences”, as other signatories stepped up efforts to save the agreement.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Trump has said that unless European allies fix what he has called “terrible flaws” in the deal by May 12, he will restore U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, which would be a severe blow to the pact.

The other powers that signed the deal – Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France – have all said they want to preserve the agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting most sanctions.

“I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will firmly react,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

“If anyone betrays the deal, they should know that they would face severe consequences,” he told a cheering crowd of thousands gathered in the city of Tabriz. “Iran is prepared for all possible situations,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron is in Washington, trying to convince Trump not to tear up the accord.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday he had agreed with his Chinese counterpart that Moscow and Beijing would try to block any U.S. attempt to sabotage the nuclear deal.

Iran has warned that it will ramp up its nuclear programme if the deal collapses.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Kevin Liffey


Russia invites chemical weapons experts to visit Syria site — Seeking a verdict of “fake news”

April 10, 2018

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov


MOSCOW: A senior Russian lawmaker says Moscow is willing to help arrange a visit this week for experts from the international chemical weapons watchdog to the site of a suspected poison gas attack in Syria.

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people died in Saturday night’s chemical attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus. The opposition blamed President Bashar Assad’s forces for the attack, accusations the government strongly denies.

Yevgeny Serberennikov, from the defense committee at the Federation Council, told the RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday that Russia is anxious for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to “finally start carrying out the functions it was created for.”

Russia’s offer comes as President Donald Trump is threatening an imminent military strike against Syria.



BBC News

Syria conflict: Russia says no evidence of Douma chemical attack

  • 9 April 2018

Unverified video shows children being treated after the alleged gas attack

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said no evidence has been found of a chemical weapons attack in Syria’s formerly rebel-held town of Douma.

Medical sources say dozens were killed in Saturday’s alleged attack but numbers are impossible to verify.

Mr Lavrov said Russian specialists and aid workers had visited the area, which rebel fighters have started leaving under a surrender deal.

The US and France have threatened a “joint, strong response”.

US President Donald Trump said on Monday that the situation was being assessed and “major decisions” would be made within 48 hours.

The claim from Russia – which has intervened militarily in Syria in support of the government – came after videos shot by rescue workers on Saturday showed lifeless bodies of men, women and children with foam at their mouths.

The Syrian-American Medical Society said more than 500 people were brought to medical centres in Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region, near the capital Damascus, with symptoms “indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”, including breathing difficulties, bluish skin, mouth foaming, corneal burns and “the emission of chlorine-like odour”.

The estimates of how many people died range from 42 to more than 60 people, but medical groups say numbers could rise as rescue workers gain access to basements where hundreds of families had sought refuge.

The UN Security Council is currently meeting to discuss the allegations.

‘We will make a major decision in next 24-48 hours’

Mr Lavrov spoke hours after a deadly attack on a Syrian military airbase, which Moscow and the Syrian government blamed on Israel.

Missiles hit the Tiyas facility, known as T4, near the city of Homs. Fourteen people are said to have been killed, including three Iranians.

Israel, which has previously hit Syrian targets, has not commented. Syria initially blamed Washington for the strike, but the US, UK and France have all denied involvement.

It is unclear whether the strike had anything to do with the suspected chemical attack.

Will the West take military action?

President Trump said there would be a “big price to pay” for what he said was a chemical attack in Douma. In April last year, the US fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after a Sarin attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun killed more than 80 people.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis refused to rule out a military response to the latest incident.

France has also led international condemnation, with President Emmanuel Macron and Mr Trump vowing to “co-ordinate a strong, joint response” after a telephone call on Sunday.

The US and France have not released any evidence.

In other reaction:

  • UK Prime Minister Theresa May hit out at the Syrian government’s Russian backers, saying they also needed to be held to account for the “brutal actions” of the Assad regime
  • The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expressed “grave concern” about the alleged attack and opened an investigation

UK PM condemns ‘barbaric attack’ in Syria

What is the Russian argument?

Mr Lavrov said that the Russian military had warned many times of a “provocation” being prepared, aimed at putting the blame on Damascus for the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.

A short guide to the Syrian civil war

“Our military specialists have visited this place, along with representatives of the Syrian Red Crescent… and they did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians,” he said.

Moscow favoured an “honest investigation” of such incidents, he said, but opposed apportioning blame without any proof.

What is happening in Douma?

Following the alleged attack, Syria and Russia reached an evacuation deal with the Jaish al-Islam rebels, who up until now have been holding Douma.

Moscow said military operations there had been halted. Under the deal, 100 buses are said to be moving 8,000 fighters and 40,000 of their relatives out of the battered town. Hostages who had been held by the rebels are being set free.

The development means pro-government forces have now taken full control of the Eastern Ghouta.

Analysts say this is President Assad’s biggest military success since the fall of Aleppo in 2016. It follows a weeks-long government offensive in which more than 1,600 people were killed.

Map of Eastern Ghouta

What about the airfield attack?

Syrian state news agency Sana reported that air defences had repelled an Israeli missile attack on the T4 base, saying the missiles were fired by Israeli F15 jets in Lebanese airspace.

Iran’s Fars news agency said that three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were among those killed.

Earlier, UK-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 14 people were killed in total, and that fighters of various nationalities – meaning Iranians or members of Iranian-backed Shia militias – were among them.

Russia’s defence ministry said that, of eight missiles, five were shot down and three reached the western part of the aerodrome.

Map of T4

Israel rarely acknowledges carrying out strikes, but has admitted attacking targets in Syria dozens of times since 2012. Its heaviest air strike on Syria, in February this year, included targeting the T4 air base.

That followed an incursion by an Iranian drone into Israel and the shooting down by Syrian air defences of an Israeli F16 fighter jet.

Israel has said it will not allow Iran, its arch-foe, to set up bases in Syria or operate from there, something Israel considers a major threat.

The Israeli military said Iran and its Revolutionary Guards had long been active in the T4 base, and were using it to transfer weapons, including to Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, an enemy of Israel.

They also said the drone had been launched from the base.

Russia to Shut Down U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, Expel Dozens of Diplomats

March 29, 2018

Russia says it will expel the same number of diplomats from U.S., other nations that expelled Russian diplomats

A view through a fence shows the building of the consulate-general of the U.S. in St. Petersburg, Russia March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
A view through a fence shows the building of the consulate-general of the U.S. in St. Petersburg, Russia March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov\ ANTON VAGANOV/ REUTERS

Russia will close down the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says. Russia said it will expel the same number of diplomats from the U.S. and other nations that expelled Russian diplomats.

“The measures would be reciprocal … They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the United States’ general consulate to operate in St. Petersburg,” Lavrov told a briefing.

Earlier this week, the Russian Embassy in the United States tweeted a poll quickly after the U.S. announcement asking which U.S. consulate they should close in retaliation. Forty-seven percent of the responders said the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg should be closed.

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On Monday, the U.S. decided to shut down its Russian consulate in Seattle and deport 60 Russian diplomats from the country. Similar announcements by Canada and over a dozen EU countries followed suit.

A senior U.S. official said that Russia “conducted an attack on America’s closest ally,” and that it this “cannot go unanswered.” The senior official described it as part of “ongoing campaign” by Russia that must be countered. “To the Russian government we say: When you attack our friends, you face consequences.”

At least 12 of the Russian diplomats who will be expelled work at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. According to the U.S. government, they used their diplomatic status to conduct intelligence collection on American soil. The senior official said this action will minimize Russia’s ability to “use diplomatic immunity to engage in intelligence operations.”

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. British authorities say they were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

Police say they were likely exposed to it on the door of Sergei Skripal’s suburban house in Salisbury, where the highest concentration of the chemical has been found.

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer, was imprisoned after he sold secrets to British intelligence. He was released in a 2010 spy swap and moved to Britain.

Lavrov Cancels Visit to Vietnam Amid Russian-UK Nerve Agent and Chemical Weapons Dispute

March 19, 2018


© AFP/File | A visit by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Vietnam was abruptly called off hours after President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for a fourth term — Lavrov, a notoriously hard negotiating diplomat, has long been part of Putin’s inner circle

HANOI (AFP) – A visit to Vietnam by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was abruptly called off Monday for “unexpected reasons”, Hanoi said, hours after President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for a fourth term.Lavrov, who has long been part of Putin’s inner circle, was scheduled to begin his visit on Monday morning.

But Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the cancellation in an email sent to reporters just an hour before his planned meeting with President Tran Dai Quang.

“Due to unexpected reasons, the visit to Vietnam of Russia’s Foreign Minister will not take place as scheduled,” the emailed statement said.

“We will inform specific time of the visit to press agencies later,” it added.

Lavrov was also due to meet his Vietnamese counterpart on Monday, along with the head of Vietnam’s Communist Party, and hold a press conference.

A security source told AFP that Lavrov had not travelled to Vietnam. “No reasons known yet,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Moscow said the trip was called off due to a scheduling conflict, according to reports.

“Due to a change in the minister’s work schedule, the dates of his trip to Vietnam are being revised,” Russian agencies reported, citing the foreign ministry.

The 11th-hour cancellation came amid a deepening diplomatic crisis between Moscow and London after former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were exposed to a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

London has accused the Kremlin of orchestrating an attempted murder on British soil using banned chemical weapons.

Britain expelled 23 Russian officials earlier this month.

The Kremlin reciprocated over the weekend, booting out 23 British diplomats and halting the activities of the British Council in Russia.

Russia was one of Hanoi’s earliest allies, establishing relations in 1950 while Vietnam was still occupied by the French.

Russia is one of Vietnam’s leading trading partners today, and a top military equipment supplier for the communist country.

Russia slams ex-spy poisoning allegations as ‘propaganda (Didn’t they say the same about chemical weapons in Syria?)

March 9, 2018


© AFP/File | Sergei Skripal bought groceries at a corner shop in the southern English city of Salisbury before collapsing

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday dismissed as “propaganda” accusations that Moscow was behind a nerve agent attack on a former double agent residing in Britain.British media and politicians have said the attack on Sergei Skripal, who came to Britain in a spy swap in 2010, bears the hallmarks of a Russian operation.

“They’re levelling accusations against us for everything that goes wrong — according to our western partners — on this very planet,” Lavrov said during a visit to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

“This is propaganda fair and square and it is trying to raise tension.”

While Britain has not formally blamed Russia for the attack, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it “echoes” the 2006 poisoning in London of former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

London blamed Moscow for that attack.

Some 21 people were injured in the incident which took place in the sleepy southwestern English city of Salisbury where Skripal was found on Sunday, slumped on a bench with his daughter Yulia.

“If action needs to be taken, then the government will do that,” British Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged.

National counter-terrorism police have taken over the investigation which they are treating as attempted murder.

Skripal was a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who was jailed for betraying agents to Britain’s MI6 secret service. In 2010, he was pardoned and then flown to Britain as part of a high-profile spy swap involving Russia and the United States.


Syrian Government Uses Ceasefire to Gain Ground

February 28, 2018


BEIRUT: Syrian government forces and allied militias gained ground on Wednesday in clashes with rebels in eastern Ghouta near Damascus as fighting raged despite a Russian ceasefire plan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The government forces advanced in the Hawsh al-Dawahira area on the eastern edge of the opposition’s besieged stronghold, the Observatory reported. The Syrian army and rebel sources could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

The Russian plan is for daily, five-hour ceasefires in eastern Ghouta from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (0700 GMT to 1200 GMT). But after a brief lull, the agreement collapsed into renewed bombardment on Tuesday, the first day of the plan.

Eastern Ghouta, where the United Nations says around 400,000 people live, is a major target for President Bashar al-Assad, who has recovered numerous areas from rebels with Russian and Iranian military backing.

Smoke rises from the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/ Bassam KhabiehREUTERS

On Feb. 18, the government and its allies began one of the heaviest bombardments of Syria’s seven-year conflict on eastern Ghouta, killing hundreds of people in air and artillery strikes, the Observatory and local rescue workers say.

It led the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution on Saturday calling for a full, 30-day humanitarian ceasefire reaching across all of Syria but excluding some jihadist groups.

Moscow and Damascus blamed rebels for the collapse of the truce on Tuesday, saying fighters had shelled a safe route intended for civilians to leave the enclave.

The insurgents denied such shelling, and a senior U.S. general accused Moscow of acting as “both arsonist and firefighter” by failing to rein in Assad.

A Syrian military source said the corridor was open for a second day on Wednesday to allow civilians, the sick and wounded to leave eastern Ghouta. But state TV reported that no civilians had left the area on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Rebels say people will not leave eastern Ghouta because of fear of the Syrian government. The eastern Ghouta is an area of farmland and towns that represents the rebels’ last major stronghold near Damascus.


Rebels have intensified shelling of nearby government-held Damascus. A medical official in the capital said on Monday 36 people had been killed in four days. Damascus and Moscow say the campaign in eastern Ghouta is needed to halt such shelling.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the plan would allow aid to be delivered to eastern Ghouta.

But the United Nations said it was proving impossible to aid civilians or evacuate wounded, and said all sides must instead abide by the 30-day truce sought by the U.N. Security Council.

With no sign of decisive international pressure to stop the attack, eastern Ghouta seems likely to meet the same fate as other areas won back by the government, where rebels and dissident civilians eventually left in negotiated withdrawals.

The multi-sided Syrian war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven half of the pre-war population of 23 million from their homes. Fighting has escalated on several fronts this year, with the collapse of Islamic State giving rise to conflict between other Syrian and foreign parties.

As Assad has pressed the offensive against eastern Ghouta, Turkey has launched an incursion against Kurdish fighters in the northwestern Afrin region. Tensions have also flared between Iran and Israel, alarmed by Tehran’s influence in Syria. Syrian air defences shot down an Israeli F-16 earlier this month as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)


Russia says ready to agree on UN resolution on Syria but with caveats

February 23, 2018


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to agree on a U.N. Security Council draft resolution in Syria but it needs guarantees on a ceasefire, Foreign Minister Lavrov said on Friday.

“There are no guarantees that (the rebels) will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas,” Lavrov said in a briefing about discussions on a U.N. ceasefire resolution for Syria.

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Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzya, dismissed reports of attacks on civilians in eastern Ghouta as disinformation and propaganda — at a Security Council meeting on February 22, 2018. Credit Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

“That’s why for the resolution to be efficient — and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so — we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta,” Lavrov said.