Friday, September 09, 2016

U.S. and Russia Reach New Agreement on Syria Conflict




Photo

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced the agreement on Syria in Geneva on Friday. Credit Pool photo by Kevin Lamarque

GENEVA — Russia and the United States reached agreement early Saturday on a new plan to reduce violence in the Syria conflict that, if successful, could lead for the first time to joint military targeting by the two big powers against Islamic jihadists in Syria.
The agreement was reached after 10 months of failed cease-fires and suspended efforts for a political settlement in the Syria war, which began more than five years ago, has left nearly a half-million people dead and created the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced the agreement in Geneva after weeks of negotiations that were marred, in President Obama’s words, by deep “mistrust” between the Russians and Americans.
The new arrangement is supposed to begin Monday in Syria, with a seven-day-long continuous “genuine reduction of violence,” in Mr. Kerry’s words, and broad, unrestricted humanitarian access to the ravaged northern city of Aleppo and other besieged areas.
If that works for the initial period, the United States and Russia are supposed to immediately establish a Joint Implementation Center, where they will share targeting data, and begin to bomb militants of the Nusra Front and Islamic State.
The key element is that Russia is then supposed to restrain the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria from conducting any air operations over Nusra and opposition areas, which the United States hopes will bring an end to the dropping of barrel bombs, including chlorine gas attacks.
In return, the United States is supposed to get the opposition groups it has been supporting to separate themselves from Nusra forces. Mr. Assad has attacked many of them on the pretense of attacking Nusra.
Mr. Kerry, usually the optimist, sounded extremely cautious about whether this new arrangement would work.
“We believe the plan, if implemented, if followed, has the ability to provide a turning point, a change,” he said. Sounding far more cautious than he did in Munich in February when he announced an earlier “cessation of hostilities” that failed, he said: “No one is basing this on trust. We are basing it on oversight and compliance.”
The accord was reached after sharp divisions inside the Obama administration over the wisdom of sharing targeting information with Russia, and accusations that the Russians have used the negotiating period to help Mr. Assad to regain control in Aleppo and strike at American-backed opposition groups.
Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter has been among the most vocal of the skeptics, saying this week, in Britain, that “Russia entered the Syrian tragedy saying it wanted to counter terrorism and end the civil war, which is the source of so much suffering, through a political transition.”
“What it has done is very different from what it said,” Mr. Carter said. “Unfortunately, so far, Russia with its support for the Assad regime has made the situation in Syria more dangerous, more prolonged, more violent.”
Correction: September 9, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated when the new arrangement between Russia and the United States is supposed to begin in Syria. The timing is Monday, not Sunday evening.

NYT

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