U.S., Rus­sia seal cease-fire in Syria

Kerry says deal could be ‘turn­ing point’ of civil war

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Bradley Klap­per and Jamey Keaten

GENEVA — The United States and Rus­sia early Satur­day an­nounced a break­through agree­ment on Syria that fore­sees a na­tion­wide cease-fire start­ing Mon­day, fol­lowed a week later by a new mil­i­tary part­ner­ship tar­get­ing the Is­lamic State and al-Qaida as well as new lim­its on Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s forces.

Af­ter a day­long fi­nal ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said shortly af­ter mid­night Satur­day that the plan could re­duce vi­o­lence in Syria and lead to a long-sought po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion, end­ing more than five years of blood­shed. He called the deal a po­ten­tial “turn­ing point” in a con­flict that has killed as many as 500,000 peo­ple, if com­plied with by Syria’s Rus­sian-backed govern­ment and U.S.-sup­ported rebel groups.

The cease-fire be­gins at sun­down Mon­day, Kerry said, co­in­cid­ing with the Mus­lim Eid al-Adha hol­i­day.

“We are an­nounc­ing an ar­range­ment that we think has the ca­pa­bil­ity of stick­ing, but it is de­pen­dent on peo­ple’s choices,” Kerry said. “It has the abil­ity to stick, pro­vided the regime and the op­po­si­tion both meet their obli­ga­tions, which we — and we ex­pect other sup­port­ing coun­tries — will strongly en­cour­age them to do.”

Kerry’s ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ner, Rus­sian For­eign Minis- Rus­sia’s Sergey Lavrov, left, with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, said “this is just the be­gin­ning of our new re­la­tions.” ter Sergey Lavrov, con­firmed the agree­ment and said it could help ex­pand the coun­tert­er­ror­ism fight and aid de­liv­er­ies to Syr­ian civil­ians.

He said As­sad’s govern­ment was pre­pared to com­ply.

“This is just the be­gin­ning of our new re­la­tions,” Lavrov said.

The deal cul­mi­nates months of fre­netic diplo­macy that in­cluded four meet­ings be­tween Kerry and Lavrov since Aug. 26 and a lengthy face-to-face talk in China be­tween Pres­i­dents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. The ar­range­ment hinges on Mos- cow pres­sur­ing As­sad’s govern­ment to halt all of­fen­sive oper­a­tions against Syria’s armed op­po­si­tion and civil­ian ar­eas. Wash­ing­ton must per­suade “mod­er­ate” rebels to break ranks with the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syria af­fil­i­ate, and other ex­trem­ist groups.

Both sides have failed to de­liver their ends of the bar­gain over sev­eral pre­vi­ous truces.

But the new ar­range­ment goes fur­ther by promis­ing a new U.S.-Rus­sian coun­tert­er­ror­ism al­liance, only a year af­ter Obama chas­tised Putin for a mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion that U.S. of­fi­cials said was mainly de­signed to keep As­sad in power and tar­get more mod­er­ate an­tiAs­sad forces.

Rus­sia, in re­sponse, has chafed at Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to groups that have in­ter­min­gled with the Nusra Front on the bat­tle­field. Kerry said it would be “wise” for op­po­si­tion forces to separate com­pletely from the Nusra Front, a state­ment Lavrov hailed.

The mil­i­tary deal would go into ef­fect af­ter both sides abide by the truce for a week and al­low unim­peded hu­man­i­tar­ian de­liv­er­ies. Then, the U.S. and Rus­sia would be­gin in­tel­li­gence shar­ing and tar­get­ing coor- di­na­tion while As­sad’s forces would no longer be per­mit­ted to tar­get the Nusra Front; they would be re­stricted to oper­a­tions against the Is­lamic State.

The pro­posed level of U.S.-Rus­sian in­ter­ac­tion has up­set sev­eral lead­ing na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton, in­clud­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter and Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Direc­tor James Clap­per, and Kerry only ap­peared at the news con­fer­ence af­ter sev­eral hours of in­ter­nal U.S. dis­cus­sions.

Af­ter the Geneva an­nounce­ment, Pen­tagon sec­re­tary Peter Cook of­fered a guarded en­dorse­ment of the ar­range­ment and cau­tioned, “We will be watch­ing closely the im­ple­men­ta­tion of this un­der­stand­ing in the days ahead.”

At one point, Lavrov said he was con­sid­er­ing “call­ing it a day” on talks, ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion with what he de­scribed as an hours­long wait for a U.S. re­sponse. He then pre­sented jour­nal­ists with sev­eral boxes of pizza, say­ing, “This is from the U.S. del­e­ga­tion,” and two bot­tles of vodka, adding, “This is from the Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion.”

The Geneva ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion, which lasted more than 13 hours, un­der­scored the com­plex­ity of a con­flict that in­cludes myr­iad mil­i­tant groups, shift­ing al­liances and the ri­val in­ter­ests of the U.S. and Rus­sia, Saudi Ara­bia and Iran and Turkey and the Kurds.

Get­ting As­sad’s govern­ment and rebel groups to com­ply with the deal may now be more dif­fi­cult as fight­ing rages around the di­vided city of Aleppo, Syria’s most pop­u­lous and the new fo­cus of the war.

But as with pre­vi­ous blue­prints for peace, Satur­day’s plan ap­pears to lack en­force­ment mech­a­nisms.

Rus­sia could, in the­ory, threaten to act against rebel groups that break the deal. But if As­sad bombs his op­po­nents, the U.S. is un­likely to take any ac­tion against him given Obama’s long-stand­ing op­po­si­tion to en­ter­ing the civil war.

In ad­di­tion to those killed, Syria’s con­flict has chased mil­lions from their homes, con­tribut­ing to Europe’s worst refugee cri­sis since World War II. Amid the chaos, the Is­lamic State has emerged as a global ter­ror threat.

KEVIN LAMAR­QUE/AP

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