Kerry says US-Russia talks on Syria ‘making progress’

Kerry says US-Russia talks on Syria ‘making progress’

Kerry says US-Russia talks on Syria ‘making progress’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) greets Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov during a bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos July 26, 2016. REUTERS photo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said July 26 that talks with Russia about cooperation in Syria were “making progress,” adding he hopes next month to announce new steps aimed at ending the fighting, while U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that Russia is still far from American positions on Syria. 

Russia and the United States support opposing sides in Syria’s five-year war, which has left 280,000 people dead and forced half the population to flee their homes.

Speaking after fresh talks on July 26 with Lavrov on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Laos, Kerry said discussions were edging forward.

“I think we are making progress,” he told reporters.

“If we do our work as effectively as it’s been done over the last days since I was in Moscow my hope would be that somewhere in early August... we would be in a position to be able to stand up in front of you and tell you what we’re able to do,” he said.

“In simple terms... what we’re trying to do is strengthen the cessation of hostilities, provide a framework which allows us to actually get to the table and have a real negotiation.” 

On July 25, Carter struck a different note, saying Russia and America remained far from finding common ground on how to end the war.  

Talks led by Kerry are aimed at seeing if “it’s possible... for the Russians to begin to do the right thing in Syria,” Carter said.

In other words, Russia’s policies that have prolonged the war should end, he said.

“We had hoped that they would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war which is the beginning of all this violence in Syria,” Carter said referring to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But “they’re a long way from doing that,” Carter stressed. “But that’s what Secretary Kerry’s trying to promote. And getting the Russians to do the right thing.”

Lavrov said on July 26 that recent discussions between Russia and the United States should encourage moderate Syrian opposition groups to leave areas occupied by the al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, thus helping to implement a truce.

Meanwhile, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on July 26 he aimed to convene a new round of Syria peace talks towards the end of August, quietly scrapping a previous timeline while putting down a new deadline for a U.S.-Russia deal to support the talks.

De Mistura, speaking after a meeting with U.S. Syria envoy Michael Ratney and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, said the United States and Russia both needed to do more work in the coming days.

De Mistura said the trilateral meeting in Geneva focused on the urgent need for progress on Syria’s cessation of hostilities, access for humanitarian aid, counter-terrorism and political transition.