The United States and Russia came up short today on a deal to end years of brutal fighting between Syria’s Russian-backed government and US-supported rebels.
Negotiations were to continue today, even as a dispirited President Barack Obama doubted the diplomacy would ever pay off.
Russia and the US have sought for weeks to secure a cease-fire between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and moderate rebels that would expand access for hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire.
The strategy has hinged on an unlikely US-Russian militarily partnership against extremist groups operating in Syria.
But beyond the Islamic State and al-Qaida, the two powers have conflicting views about who fits in that category.
“We’re not there yet,” Obama said on the sidelines of an economic summit in China, where across town US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were trying to hash out the deal.
“It’s premature for us to say that there is a clear path forward, but there is the possibility at least for us to make some progress on that front.”
A senior State Department official said the talks faltered yesterday when Russia pulled back from agreement on issues the US negotiators believed had been settled.
The official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss negotiations publicly and requested anonymity, didn’t elaborate. Kerry and Lavrov were consulting with their governments before talks resume on Monday.
The conflict has killed as many as a half-million people since 2011 and caused millions of Syrians to flee their homes, contributing to a global migration crisis. Amid the chaos, IS has emerged as a global terror threat.
Kerry and Lavrov’s talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit represent their third significant attempt since July to finalise a new US-Russian military partnership that Moscow has long sought.
The package would include provisions so aid can reach besieged areas of Syria and measures to prevent Assad’s government from bombing areas where US-backed rebels are operating.