After nearly 10 hours of negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have narrowed their differences on an agreement to re-establish the Syrian ceasefire, allow for massive humanitarian assistance, and chart a political transition for the battered nation.
Kerry said the talks with Lavrov had “achieved clarity on the path forward” but together they offered few details on how they planned to renew a February cessation of hostilities and improve humanitarian assistance.
“We don’t want to have a deal for the sake of the deal,” Kerry said. “We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution.”
The talks have been complicated since initial meetings in July by new government attacks on opposition groups, and a significant offensive in the southern part of the divided city of Aleppo led by opposition fighters intermingled with the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate also seeking to topple Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad.
In the days ahead the technical teams, which include U.S. and Russian military and intelligence experts, will try to figure out ways to separate the opposition groups, backed by the United States and Gulf Arab countries, from the jihadis.
It was unclear after Friday’s meetings whether outstanding issues could all be resolved between Moscow and Washington, which back opposing parties in the Syrian conflict. The United States has insisted that the Syrian air force, which has dropped barrel bombs and chlorine on residential areas, be grounded but Lavrov said on Friday that was not the goal.
Assad’s future is not part of the current talks. Instead, discussions are focused on finding an effective and lasting solution to end the violence, which would open negotiations on a political transition in Syria.
“If the remaining details can be completed, we believe we will be able to address the two primary challenges to the cessation of hostilities – the regime violations and the increasing influence of the al-Nusra Front,” Kerry said.
Kerry believes the plan is the best chance to limit fighting that is driving thousands of Syrians into exile in Europe and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching tens of thousands more.
“We don’t want to have a deal for the sake of the deal,” Kerry said. If that sounds familiar, you’re right. Kerry said nearly the same thing before closing the Iran deal.
All of this sounds peachy, except the chances of ISIS and other Islamist militias accepting a cease fire are close to zero. They believe ousting Assad is their holy duty.
And what of the U.S.-backed rebels? They have fought and bled for the cause and now the U.S. is about to throw them under the bus. It’s likely that any deal to end hostilities will include a provision that the U.S. end support for the Kurds and other secular rebels.
In the end, Putin will get everything he wanted: a reliable client state in Syria that will be even more under Russia’s thumb than before. And, of course, Hezbollah will go back to Lebanon to a hero’s welcome.
And the 8 million Syrian refugees will probably never go home, leaving the West to see to their comforts for the next several decades.