Deal be­tween Rus­sia, U.S. un­rav­els and war revs up

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

NEW YORK >> In a New York ho­tel room ear­lier this week, Rus­sia thought it was close to a deal with the U.S. to re­vive a cease­fire deal for Syria.

A three-day pe­riod of calm would go into ef­fect, ac­com­pa­nied by Syr­ian and Rus­sian planes leav­ing the skies over north­ern Syria, ac­cord­ing to a con­cept that Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov de­vel­oped late Wed­nes­day night. That would per­mit Syria’s war­ring sides to reaf­firm their sup­port and prove their com­mit­ment to a U.S.-Rus­sian plan for end­ing the civil war.

But nei­ther gov­ern­ment had signed off on the diplo­mats’ plans, ac­cord­ing to U.S. and Rus­sian of­fi­cials with knowl­edge of the pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions in the Palace Ho­tel.

And af­ter Kerry con­sulted oth­ers in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, he told Lavrov that the truce should last a week, said the of­fi­cials, who weren’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the mat­ter and de­manded anonymity.

Lavrov, ac­cord­ing to one of­fi­cial, threw up his hands in ex­as­per­a­tion.

“Orig­i­nally, our Amer­i­can col­leagues said, I be­lieve on Wed­nes­day, why can we not con­sider at least a three-day pe­riod,” Lavrov said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day. “We checked with the mil­i­tary who know the sit­u­a­tion on the ground. We ac­cepted. But the next morn­ing they said, ‘Thank you very much, but we now need seven.’”

One se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said Lavrov’s ac­count was mis­lead­ing and that Rus­sia is­sued sev­eral un­ac­cept­able con­di­tions of its own. The of­fi­cial said Kerry and Lavrov never even reached a ten­ta­tive un­der­stand­ing be­tween them­selves, let alone their gov­ern­ments.

Re­gard­less of the dif­fer­ing ac­counts, the fall­out from the fail­ure was se­vere.

By Thurs­day af­ter­noon, as Kerry and Lavrov met with more than a dozen Euro­pean and Arab for­eign min­is­ters, Rus­sia was help­ing Syria’s gov­ern­ment launch a fresh of­fen­sive on the al­ready be­sieged city of Aleppo. An an­gry Kerry an­nounced the news to the room af­ter read­ing it off an aide’s Black­Berry.

He then told re­porters the cease-fire was over even as he said there could be no al­ter­na­tive ap­proach.

Kerry on Fri­day said he held fol­low-up con­sul­ta­tions with Lavrov and “we ex­changed some ideas and we had a lit­tle bit of progress.”

“We’re eval­u­at­ing some mu­tual ideas in a con­struc­tive way,” Kerry said, ton­ing down the out­rage he had ex­pressed with Rus­sia’s po­si­tion a day ear­lier and in a Wed­nes­day speech at the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The week’s break­down in the diplo­macy on the side­lines of the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly oc­curred as vi­o­lence in Syria ac­cel­er­ated. Sev­eral high-pro­file and deadly at­tacks sug­gested the war could be en­ter­ing a darker phase.

First, an er­rant U.S. strike on a Syr­ian mil­i­tary con­tin­gent killed dozens. Twenty died when an aid con­voy headed to­ward Aleppo was bombed — Wash­ing­ton blamed the at­tack on Moscow; Rus­sia said it wasn’t re­spon­si­ble. Then, four medics were killed in a bomb­ing raid, pre­sum­ably by Syria or Rus­sia.

But the diplo­matic fail­ure also un­der­scored a rapid plunge in U.S.-Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion on Syria. Just two weeks ago, Kerry and Lavrov cul­mi­nated a marathon day of ne­go­ti­a­tions in Geneva with an an­nounce­ment of a na­tion­wide cease-fire that would be fol­lowed by a new mil­i­tary al­liance be­tween the for­mer Cold War foes, tar­get­ing the Is­lamic State group and al-Qaida.

Much of the world hailed the out­come, and a rare calm fol­lowed over war­rav­aged parts of Syria for sev­eral days. It didn’t last.

In­frac­tions by both Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and U.S.-sup­ported rebels be­came in­creas­ingly reg­u­lar. Aid barely reached any­one at all, de­spite much-hyped prom­ises of un­fet­tered hu­man­i­tar­ian de­liv­er­ies.

The U.S.-Rus­sian coun­tert­er­ror part­ner­ship quickly dis­ap­peared from the ta­ble.

Wash­ing­ton and Moscow dug into seem­ingly in­tractable po­si­tions, in­clud­ing Kerry’s in­sis­tence this week that Rus­sia and As­sad ground their air forces. A se­nior Euro­pean diplo­mat said it was deemed im­por­tant that Rus­sia “de­ci­sively sig­nal” a respite in the bomb­ing.

Blam­ing rebels for the re­newed vi­o­lence, Lavrov re­jected the ad­di­tional de­mands.

Go­ing be­yond the Sept. 9 cease-fire deal is “sense­less” un­less U.S.-backed forces sep­a­rate from agreed ter­ror­ist groups like the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, he said Fri­day.

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