Following a marathon meeting in Munich aimed at resurrecting peace
talks that collapsed last week, the powers, including the United
States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations, reaffirmed their
commitment to a political transition when conditions on the ground
At a news conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
acknowledged the Munich meeting produced commitments on paper only.
"What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground,
in the field," he said, adding that "without a political transition,
it is not possible to achieve peace."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the news conference that
Russia would not stop air attacks in Syria, saying the cessation of
hostilities did not apply to Islamic State and al Nusrah, which is
affiliated with al Qaeda. Islamic State militants control large
parts of Syria and Iraq
"Our airspace forces will continue working against these
organizations," he said.
The United States and European allies say few Russian strikes have
targeted those groups, with the vast majority hitting Western-backed
opposition groups seeking to topple the government of President
Bashar al-Assad government.
Lavrov said peace talks should resume in Geneva as soon as possible
and that all Syrian opposition groups should participate. He added
that halting hostilities would be a difficult task.
But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said ending fighting
could only succeed if Russia stopped air strikes supporting Syrian
government forces' advance against the opposition.
Diplomats cautioned that Russia had until now not demonstrated any
interest in seeing Assad replaced and was pushing for a military
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday raised the
specter of an interminable conflict or even a world war if powers
failed to negotiate an end to five years of fighting in Syria, which
has killed 250,000 people, caused a refugee crisis and empowered
Islamic State militants.
OPPOSITION GROUP CAUTIOUS
Syria's main opposition group welcomed the plan by the world powers
It cautioned, however, that the agreement must prove to be effective
before it joins political talks with government representatives in
Russia's intervention on the battlefield on behalf of Assad since
last October has swung the momentum in the fight between the
government and opposition forces. The latest advance over the past
two weeks has seen government forces and allies rout rebels and come
close to encircling Aleppo, a divided city half held by rebels for
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The first peace talks in two years between belligerents in Syria
fell apart last week before they began in the face of the advance by
A senior French diplomat said: "The Russians said they will continue
bombing the terrorists. They are taking a political risk because
they are accepting a negotiation in which they are committing to a
cessation of hostilities. If in a week there is no change because of
their bombing, then they will bear the responsibility."
Washington is leading its own air campaign against Islamic State
militants in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, but has resisted calls
to intervene in the main battlefields of Syria's civil war in the
west of the country, where the government is mostly fighting against
other insurgent groups.
The communique of the plan reached in Munich said the powers had
established a ceasefire task force, under the auspices of the United
Nations, co-chaired by Russia and the United States, and including
members having government and opposition groups.
The communique added that sustained humanitarian aid would begin
this week to various besieged areas of Syria.
"Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step
toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the
country," the joint communique added.
The Assad government for years has repeatedly promised humanitarian
access but has rarely lived up to its promises. Western-backed
rebels have also been accused of that.
(Reporting by John Irish and Warren Strobel; Additional reporting by
Denis Dyomkin and Shadia Nasralla and Sabine Siebold; Writing by
Peter Cooney; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Sandra Maler)
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