Kerry ad­mits diplo­macy at im­passe as truce col­lapses

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bradley Klapper and Matthew Lee

The United States and Rus­sia ended any pre­tenses Thursday of their cease-fire for Syria re­main­ing in force af­ter days of in­creased vi­o­lence and the Syr­ian mil­i­tary’s an­nounce­ment of a new of­fen­sive in Aleppo.

“We can’t go out to the world and say we have an agree­ment when we don’t,” Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said af­ter meet­ing the top diplo­mats from Rus­sia and more than a dozen Euro­pean and Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries.

Kerry’s state­ment, af­ter three days of pri­vate and pub­lic diplo­macy on the sidelines of the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly, pro­vided an omi­nous end­note to a week diplo­mats had hoped would be a ma­jor cap­stone to­ward peace.

In­stead, Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, who ne­go­ti­ated the truce two weeks ago, went their sep­a­rate ways as vi­o­lence in Syria flared up anew and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two key for­eign pow­ers in the con­flict ap­peared to reach a new low.

No one spoke of be­ing able to quickly re­sus­ci­tate the cease-fire. While Kerry and Lavrov were set to hold more talks Fri­day, even con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures seemed be­yond their reach at this point.

As the diplo­mats hud­dled in a New York ho­tel, Syria’s mil­i­tary command said it would restart op­er­a­tions in the north­ern city of Aleppo, scene of some of the bit­ter­est fight­ing in re­cent months.

Ac­cord­ing to one of­fi­cial present in the gath­er­ing, Kerry was in­formed of the news when his chief of staff showed him a head­line on his Black­Berry.

A fu­ri­ous Kerry then told the en­tire room, Lavrov in­cluded, that “even while we are meet­ing here, they are do­ing this,” said the of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the mat­ter and de­manded anonymity.

Lavrov told Rus­sian me­dia that con­sul­ta­tions would con­tinue to “guar­an­tee” the cease-fire.

But even as Kerry vowed to press on with all ef­forts to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the war be­tween Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s Rus­sian-backed gov­ern­ment and U.S.-backed rebels, the Amer­i­can ac­knowl­edged the cur­rent strat­egy wasn’t work­ing.

“We can’t be the only ones try­ing to hold this door open,” Kerry told re­porters. “Rus­sia and the regime must do their part or this will have no chance.”

He called for the im­me­di­ate ground­ing of planes and he­li­copters that have launched airstrikes, in­clud­ing a Rus­sian one ear­lier this week that the U.S. says hit an aid con­voy, killing 20 civil­ians. Rus­sia has de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity, while rais­ing a range of ul­te­rior sce­nar­ios for how the car­a­van might have been struck.

“Ab­sent a ma­jor ges­ture like this, we don’t be­lieve there is a point to mak­ing more prom­ises or is­su­ing more plans or an­nounc­ing some­thing that can’t be reached,” Kerry said, de­scrib­ing a “mo­ment of truth” for Syria, Rus­sia and all those try­ing to halt the blood­shed.

The meet­ing came af­ter As­sad told the AP in an in­ter­view in Da­m­as­cus that the United States was to blame for the deal’s fail­ure. He cited U.S. in­abil­ity to con­trol “ter­ror­ist” groups and a week­end at­tack that killed dozens of Syr­ian sol­diers. The U.S. apol­o­gized for what it de­scribed as a mis­take.

Lavrov had sought a three-day pause in fight­ing to re­vive the cease-fire.

But U.S. of­fi­cials said there was no point re­turn­ing to a sit­u­a­tion in which rebels would be pressed to hold fire, while the Syr­ian and Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s could vi­o­late the agree­ment.

Amer­i­can of­fi­cials de­scribed the two-and-ahalf-hour meet­ing in the Palace Ho­tel as “con­tentious.”

Kerry and oth­ers made the point re­peat­edly to Lavrov that Rus­sia had to un­der­take new steps that went be­yond pre­vi­ous agree­ments to sal­vage the process. Lavrov pushed only for all sides to recom­mit to the Sept. 9 truce, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

Rus­sia pro­vided “un­sat­is­fac­tory” an­swers, French For­eign Min­is­ter JeanMarc Ayrault said.

Kerry said he would wait for Lavrov to tell him Fri­day if Rus­sia would sus­pend airstrikes for a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of time.

At the U.N., As­sad’s other ma­jor sup­porter also re­jected the U.S.led call for air­craft to be grounded.

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani said do­ing so would aid “ter­ror­ists.”

“This course has no foun­da­tion, no logic,” said Rouhani, whose coun­try has di­rected Ira­nian troops and Hezbol­lah forces in sup­port of As­sad.

The war has killed as many as a half-mil­lion peo­ple, con­trib­uted to Europe’s worst refugee cri­sis since World War II and al­lowed the Is­lamic State group to emerge as a global ter­ror threat.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, left, and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry talk dur­ing a meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Syria Sup­port Group on Thursday in New York.

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