Syrian authorities and some rebels may be willing to allow humanitarian aid, enforce local ceasefires and implement further confidence-building measures in the war that has gripped the country, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.
In Paris for two days of meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry told reporters that he and Lavrov “talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire”, beginning in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
US-backed Syrian rebels have agreed that if the government commits to a ceasefire, “they would live up to it”, Kerry said.
Given the history of failed attempts to end the war, which has killed more than 100,000 people in Syria and displaced millions more, it remains to be seen whether a partial ceasefire can be achieved or, if it is achieved, whether it can hold.
It also seems unlikely to be honoured by powerful Islamist rebel factions, some of whom are at war with both the Assad regime and other rebel groups backed by the West and Gulf states.
But diplomats are trying to persuade those rebels to agree to a series of steps to facilitate Syrian peace talks slated to be held in Montreux, Switzerland, on January 22.
Lavrov, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the Syrian government had indicated it might provide access for humanitarian aid to reach besieged areas. He specifically cited the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, where 160,000 people have been largely trapped by fighting, according to the UN.
But Kerry expressed some scepticism that Assad’s government would follow through. “The proof will be in the pudding, as we say”, he said at the news conference.
Kerry added that he and Lavrov had also discussed a possible prisoner exchange between the two sides.
Sharp divisions over Iran
But divisions between Russia and the US remain, particularly over whether Iran, a major player in the Syria conflict, should attend the peace talks.
“I’m convinced that practicality and pragmatism ... require that Iran should be invited,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov added that other countries “who do not want the conference to succeed” have already been invited, likely referring to Gulf Arab countries who are arming rebel groups.
But Kerry reiterated the US view that Iranian delegates should come only if they are willing to accept an agreement reached at a June 2012 peace conference in Geneva that calls for a transitional government body to be established in Damascus “by mutual consent”.
The US interprets that language as requiring Assad’s departure from power; Russia disagrees.
“I invite Iran today to join the community of nations, the 30 nations that are already prepared to come, and be a constructive partner for peace,” Kerry said. “That’s the invitation.”
Meanwhile, the main Syrian opposition group backed by the West has said it will decide on Friday whether to attend the peace conference, which has been named Geneva 2.
(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)
Date created : 2014-01-13