Another diplomatic breakthrough is achieved. Russian and US foreign chiefs reached a truce on February 21 that could begin in the next few days in Syria's five-year civil war.
«We have reached a provisional agreement in principle on the terms of a cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days», US State Secretary John Kerry told a news conference in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry spoke on the phone Sunday, February 21, for a second day in a row and discussed «the modality and conditions» for a ceasefire in Syria.
While on a visit to Jordan, the US State Secretary said Russia has to talk with Iran and the Syrian government and the United States has to talk with the opposition and members of the International Syria Support Group. «What we are trying to achieve is a process with precision and commitment, and if we get that, that's the best opportunity for the people of Syria to see the violence reduced», he said.
The Secretary added that he and Lavrov hoped that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin would be speaking in the coming days in order to complete the provisional agreement in principle, and that the two sides are «still filling out the details» before the implementation.
The two foreign chiefs also discussed military coordination in a bid to ensure a truce in Syria, where government troops continue to battle foreign-backed terrorists.
The news about Russia-US agreement came following the February 19 rejection by the US and France of a Russia-drafted resolution at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council aimed at halting cross-border shelling as well as preventing a foreign ground intrusion against the Syrian territory. Russia regretted the fact that the document was rejected.
On January 29, talks between the government of Syria and the representatives of the Syrian opposition began in Geneva. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said on February 3 that the talks came to a temporary pause. The resumption of the intra-Syrian negotiation process is expected on February 25. Kerry and Lavrov are the main architects of the Munich agreement on February 11 and 12 according to which 17 countries and three organizations agreed on a proposed ceasefire. The Munich agreement called for a cessation of hostilities to begin as early as February 19. However, that date passed with no truce coming into effect. Now, an important diplomatic breakthrough is achieved to rectify the situation. There is a chance for success.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on February 20 he was ready for a ceasefire adding that terrorists must not use a lull in fighting to their advantage.
«We have said that we are ready to stop military operations, but the issue relates to more important factors…such as preventing terrorists from using it to improve their positions», Assad was quoted as saying by an official online media outlet.
On the same day, various Syrian opposition factions «expressed agreement on the possibility of reaching a temporary truce deal, to be reached through international mediation», a statement from the high negotiations committee said.
The committee, which brings together armed rebel groups and Syria’s exiled political opposition, said all sides should cease fire simultaneously and the Syrian government should release prisoners.
Randa Kassis, a senior member of the moderate Syrian opposition delegation at the talks, said that intra-Syrian talks will resume in the Swiss city of Montreux on February 25.
The peace management effort is rather a large order than a bed of roses. There are serious obstacles on the way. For instance, Sergey Lavrov has called for a halt in Turkey’s attempts to violate Syria’s territorial integrity in talks with his American counterpart, «Lavrov also noted that provocative Turkish acts that violate the Syrian Arab Republic's territorial integrity are inadmissible», the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Syrian authorities have also slammed recent Turkish artillery shelling of Syria’s territory as an «outrageous violation» of international law, accusing Turkey of committing «crimes» against Syrian by shelling areas in the northern Aleppo province.
On February 20, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the United States to give unconditional support in the fight against Syrian Kurdish militants, illustrating growing tension between Ankara and Washington over policy in northern Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on the same day that Turkey reserves the right to carry out all kinds of operations at home and abroad against terror threats. «Turkey will use its right to expand its rules of engagement beyond [responding to] actual attacks against it and to encompass all terror threats, including PYD and Daesh in particular», the president said at a UNESCO meeting in Istanbul. Erdoğan noted: «Nobody can limit Turkey in using its right of self-defense against terror attacks targeting the country».
His remarks came after a suicide bomb attack in the Turkish capital Ankara killed 28 people and wounded 61 others on Feb. 17.
The Turkish government affirmed that the Ankara attack was carried out jointly by a PYD/YPG member (the Democratic Union Party/ The People's Protection Units) – a Syrian national – and PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party) members. Ankara considers all three groups to be terrorist outfits, while the US designates only the PKK as such and regards the YPG as a «reliable partner» in northern Syria.
Saudi Arabia has expressed support for equipping anti-Syria militants with surface-to-air missiles, claiming the move would shift the «balance of power» in favor of the forces it supports. «We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground», said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel el-Jubeir as quoted by German weekly Der Spiegel, which published an interview with him on February 19.
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The United States and Russia must cooperate in fighting Islamic State in Syria. The UN estimates there are 486,700 people in around 15 besieged areas of Syria, and 4.6 million in hard-to-reach areas. Deaths from starvation and severe malnutrition have been reported.
World powers – Russia, the United States and powers from Europe and the Middle East – just cannot stay idle and let the situation slide further. The cooperation between the United States and Russia is a crucial one. Actually, few could have really believed that the progress reached so far, was achievable. But the positive results are here and the international effort is on the way against all odds. The above mentioned facts show the peace process gains strength with many actors ready to join.
The problems of global non-proliferation regime, North Korea, terrorist threats, failed and rogue states, as well as many others, just cannot be tackled without Russia and the US joining together. True, the Syrian conflict management process faces a lot of snags on the way. Despite that, Russia and the US have made another important step towards achieving the common goal to benefit all.