U.S. broadens Syria talks after failure
of truce deal with Russia
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[October 15, 2016]
By Alexander Winning and Lesley Wroughton
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
returned to Syria talks on Saturday, three weeks after the failure of
their painstakingly drafted ceasefire that many saw as the last hope for
peace this year.
Kerry has pointedly avoided new bilateral negotiations with Lavrov, and
his invitation to the Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, Iranian, Jordanian and
Egyptian foreign ministers to join them for talks in the Swiss lakeside
town of Lausanne will broaden the discussion to include powerful backers
of Syria's government and rebels.
"We've asked countries to come, having done some thinking, about a
realistic way forward given the differences represented in the room," a
senior U.S. State Department official said.
Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of
efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked through
ideas, some of which will be presented in Lausanne, the official said.
"With all that said, I'm not expecting we will have some major
announcement at the end of this. This is going to be, as it has been now
for several years, a very difficult process," the official added.
The new talks will not deliver an immediate solution, but could be the
basis of a new process, the official said.
Pressure is rising for a halt to a ferocious, three-week-old Syrian
government offensive to capture the rebel-held eastern zone of the city
of Aleppo, where the United Nations says 275,000 civilians still live
and 8,000 rebels are holding out against Syrian, Russian and
Western powers have accused Russia and Syria of committing atrocities by
bombing hospitals, killing civilians and preventing medical evacuations,
as well as targeting an aid convoy with the loss of around 20 lives.
Syria and Russia counter that they only targeting militants in Aleppo
and accuse the United States of breaking the ceasefire by bombing scores
of Syrian troops fighting Islamic State insurgents, over which the
United States has expressed "regret".
A senior rebel commander said on Friday Syrian government forces would
never be able to capture Aleppo's eastern sector, but a military source
said the operation was going as planned.
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A general view taken with a drone shows the damage in the rebel-held
Bab al-Hadid neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, October 13, 2016.
Picture taken October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
The United Nations has said food, fuel and medicine are running out
in eastern Aleppo and there will be no rations to distribute from
the start of next month.
In a gesture of apparent desperation, U.N. Syria peace envoy Staffan
de Mistura has offered to escort members of an Islamist militant
group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, out of Aleppo if that would entice
Damascus to forge a ceasefire with the remaining rebels.
Lavrov has said he does not plan to bring new proposals to Lausanne.
But his deputy Gennady Gatilov said Russia wants to discuss de
Mistura's offer, as well as elements of last month's failed truce
deal, namely humanitarian aid deliveries and a pullout of both
sides' troops from the Castello Road, a key supply route.
"And it's about time to start moving toward an inclusive political
process," Gatilov told Interfax news agency.
Many in Syria's opposition say Kerry has put too much trust in
Lavrov, with protracted diplomatic wrangling over ceasefires buying
time for Russia's military campaign and obscuring the once central
question of the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the
clock runs down to the U.S. elections on Nov. 8.
(Additional reporting by Marina Depetris, John Irish, Lesley
Wroughton and David Alexander; writing by Tom Miles; editing by Mark
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