Nine-party Syria talks in Lausanne end without breakthrough

Eight-party Syria talks convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday evening failed to agree on a common strategy with Russia to end the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year.

Kerry was seeking a new path to peace after failing to secure a ceasefire in direct talks with Moscow, one of Syria’s key backers, amid mounting international outrage over the Russian and Syrian bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – weeks after the collapse of a painstakingly crafted U.S.-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.

Kerry told reporters there was consensus on a number of options that could lead to a ceasefire, but conceded that there had been some tense moments during Saturday’s talks. “I would characterize this as an example of what we wanted, which was a brainstorming and a very candid first-time discussion,” he said. “A number of ideas came from the number of different ministers as we hoped that might be able to shape some different approaches.”

But the meeting failed to come up with a joint statement or a shared vision on how to move forward.

Russian Foreign Ministry: All talks participants agreed that Syrians must decide own future

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said all participants in talks in Lausanne had agreed Syrians should decide their own future through inclusive dialogue and that the country should remain whole and secular, after the meeting ended without a breakthrough.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that in order for a U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement to succeed and to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries, Syria’s moderate opposition must separate from Jabhat Fatah al Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front, and other “terrorist groups” affiliated with it. “At the same time, it should be understood that operations against terrorists of Islamic State and the Nusra Front will be continued,” the ministry said.

Meeting in London on Sunday

Europe was not represented at the meeting, held in a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva. But France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Kerry and foreign ministers of like-minded nations planned to meet in London on Sunday to discuss Syria. Kerry said parties to the Lausanne talks would contact each other on Monday to follow up.

Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked on a number of ideas. Although no breakthrough had been expected on Saturday, a senior U.S. official said before the meeting that the regional format to the talks could be the basis of a new process. However, a former Western envoy in Syria told Reuters: “I don’t understand (why) the Americans are asking the Russians to talk again. They have made zero concessions. Do the Americans believe Moscow was shaken by the break-off last week and will change behavior now?”

Separately, a Western diplomat in Lausanne said the meeting appeared ill-prepared and vague in its goals, and the list of invitees had been clarified only at the last moment. Earlier, Kerry met separately with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir and with Lavrov to discuss the logistics of the meeting.

It was the first meeting between Kerry and Lavrov since the collapse of a second attempted ceasefire in September. The impending end of the Obama administration is likely to mean a hiatus in U.S. diplomacy while his successor, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, takes up the reins.

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

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