Syria’s Conflict: Russia, US Join Together to Achieve Major Diplomatic Breakthrough

Syria’s Conflict: Russia, US Join Together to Achieve Major Diplomatic Breakthrough

The United States and Russia have agreed on a new cease-fire for Syria that will take effect on February 27. President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone on Monday, February 22, in the continuing effort to bring a pause in the fighting between warring factions in Syria. It revives hopes for a solution to a five-year war that resulted in 260,000 deaths and a refugee crisis to hit Europe.

The truce is due to come into force at midnight on February 27 after all the parties to the conflict will sign up to it. The cessation of hostilities is the result of talks between the United States and Russia as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group.

A joint US-Russian statement says, armed opposition groups that want to take part must confirm by Feb. 26 that they’ll abide by the cessation of hostilities agreement.

The wording is carefully chosen not to require the kind of agreement in a formal cease-fire. The United States is responsible for bringing the various opposition groups in line while the Russians are supposed to pressure the government.

Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and other United Nations-designated terrorist organizations are excluded from the pact with air strikes against them continued.

Russian and American military officials will go over maps to decide which areas are controlled by groups that agree to the truce, and those areas won't be targeted in airstrikes.

The statement calls for a «communications hotline». The two countries also will share «pertinent information» about territory held by rebels accepting the truce. Any party can report violations. The document encourages all parties to exercise a «proportionate use of force when responding in self-defense». There is no provision to set out a mechanism for responding to potential violations. The plan leaves open how breaches of the cease-fire will be identified or punished. Perhaps, these are the issues to be addressed further. The truce would also allow for delivery of humanitarian aid to citizens trapped in besieged areas of the country.

The plan largely follows the blueprint set by Washington, Moscow and 15 other countries at a conference in Germany earlier this month. That agreement called for a truce by February 19, a deadline that was missed.

«At last, there appeared a real chance to stop the longstanding bloodshed and violence», Russian President Vladimir Putin said adding that it would create conditions for «the launch of a real political process in the format of a broad intra-Syrian dialogue in Geneva under the auspices of the UN».

Russia had been conducting intensive diplomatic activities in preparation for the deal. On February 22, Putin spoke with the emir of Qatar, a key supporter of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. The two sides agreed to intensify bilateral contacts at various levels to facilitate the settlement of the crisis. The Russian President also discussed Syria with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, another leading backer of the rebels, in a phone conversation on February 19. The US-Russia partial cease-fire deal was announced after Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Iran on Feb. 21 to convey the draft plan and discuss it with Iranian officials.

The truce was announced at the same time as European Union members are facing a surge of refugees that has prompted debate over the region’s open borders.

The news came amid growing concerns that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be drawn more deeply into the conflict by launching a ground offensive.

Syrian officials said the government was ready to take part in a truce as long as it is not used by militants to reinforce their positions.

The main opposition group in Syria, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, expressed «preliminary approval to reach a temporary truce», in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the agreement, calling it «a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people».

He warned that much work lies ahead for its implementation.

Syria UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said the cessation accord could allow a resumption of negotiations. «We can now relaunch very soon the political process which is needed to end this conflict», he noted.

Once the cessation of hostilities takes hold, the UN would work to secure «access to as many places as possible in order to deliver humanitarian aid», UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said, Turkey welcomes the cease-fire deal and hopes it is implemented.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the deal a potentially «important step» toward reducing «horrendous» Syrian violence.

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The diplomatic breakthrough reached by Russia and the United States to end fighting in Syria served as an example of what joint international initiatives may achieve. Nobody would have believed it was possible a month ago.

«The accords of Russia and the United States to cease hostilities in Syria, their mutual implementation in coordination with all the member countries comprising the International Syria Support Group may become an example of the world community’s responsible actions based on the norms of international law and the UN principles and counteracting the threat of terrorism», the Russian President said in his assessment of the event.

With all the issues to divide the two powers, the two countries have a history of successful cooperation. The START-3 Treaty came into force on 5 February 2011; the US promoted Russia’s accession to the WTO in 2012.

Russia and the US joined together to implement the agreement on the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. Both nations fruitfully cooperated on the Iranian nuclear deal. Russia and the US have started to communicate in an effort to find a solution to the Ukraine’s crisis.

With the anti-Russian sanctions lifted and US military activities in Europe curbed, the parties could have done a lot more in the effort to manage global burning problems.

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