Lavrov: Russia respects Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty

Russia respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq, all problems in the country should be resolved through dialogue with the participation of all ethnic, confessional and political groups, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Moscow.

“I would like to reaffirm our commitment to the respect of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Iraq, the commitment to ensure that all problems that arise are resolved through an inclusive national dialogue with participation and consideration of the interests of all ethnic, religious and political groups,” Lavrov said.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/RIA

 

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Kerry and Lavrov talk about Aleppo, while the rebels announce major assault to break siege

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday about renewed fighting and air strikes in the Syrian city of Aleppo after a break of several days, the State Department said.

Lavrov and Kerry discussed the situation in Syria in a phone call and agreed that experts from several countries meeting in Geneva would continue searching for ways to resolve the Aleppo crisis, the State Department and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

Lavrov told Kerry the United States must fulfil its obligation to separate moderate opposition groups from “terrorists” in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

The geographic proximity between moderate Syrian rebels and groups considered terrorist by Russia and the United States was one factor in the failure last month of a ceasefire negotiated by Moscow and Washington.

“They talked about the importance of the continued multilateral discussions in Geneva and how … to get a meaningful cessation of hostilities and the delivery of humanitarian aid,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said of Kerry and Lavrov. During the call, Kerry expressed concern about the renewal of air strikes and ground attacks in Aleppo by Syrian government forces and their Russian supporters after a pause in the fighting for several days, Kirby said. He noted that humanitarian aid had still not made it through to people under siege in Aleppo, despite the pause in fighting.

Asked whether the multilateral talks on Syria in Geneva had made progress, Kirby said only that the dialogue was “ongoing” and he had nothing further to report.

SAA and Hezbollah capture Bazo hill in SW Aleppo

Syrian government forces and their allies on Monday captured strategic high ground in embattled Aleppo as Russia — a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad — said it was not planning more “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting in the city’s eastern, rebel-held districts.

Fighting resumed in Aleppo over the weekend, following a days-long lull announced by Moscow that was meant to allow rebels and civilians to leave the eastern districts. The rebels rejected the Russian offer and none of the civilians left.

Government troops launched a fresh offensive and on Monday took the hilltop of Bazo on the southern edge of Aleppo, near military bases, and shelled the rebel neighborhoods, according to opposition activists. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Bazo was taken amid heavy bombardment. Both the Observatory and the Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported government shelling in eastern parts of the city.

A video released by the Syrian army showed tanks and cannons pounding rebel positions in the area. The state SANA news agency, meanwhile, said the rebels shelled government-held neighborhoods in western Aleppo, killing one person and wounding seven.

The rebels announce major assault to break Aleppo siege

A pro-opposition media outlet circulated footage of a powerful and hard-line Islamist rebel coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah announcing that the campaign to break the government’s siege of the city’s east would begin “within hours.”

Syrian troops have besieged rebel-held parts of Aleppo for weeks, subjecting the districts to some of the worst air raids since a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia collapsed on Sept. 19. Opposition activists say more than 600 people have been killed in Aleppo and neighboring villages since then.

Jaish al-Fatah commander Ali Abu Odai al-Aloush told the Qasioun News Agency that “zero hour has drawn near,” and that his militants had begun moving toward Aleppo. It was unclear when the interview was recorded.

A spokesman for the Nour el-Din al-Zinki rebel faction in Aleppo said an operation to break the government’s siege of the rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo was “coming.” The spokesman, Yasser al-Yousef, said the rebels would not intentionally target civilians in Aleppo’s government-held districts, but warned of collateral damage from the anticipated operations.

Rebels shell West Aleppo, 3 people killed

Three people have been killed, including a seven-year-old girl, and 28 more injured after militants shelled residential areas of government-held West Aleppo on Sunday, according to Russia Today reporter Murad Gazdiev. The attacks, which targeted West Aleppo’s Hamdaniya district and Salah-Eddin neighborhood, lasted for hours, Gazdiev said, citing his sources on the ground.

 

Sources: Reuters/Associated Press/Russia Today/Syria & Iraq News

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

Nine-party talks on Syria start in Lausanne

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov returned to Syria talks on Saturday, three weeks after the failure of their painstakingly drafted ceasefire that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.

Kerry has pointedly avoided new bilateral negotiations with Lavrov, and his invitation to the Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, Iranian, Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers to join them for talks in the Swiss lakeside town of Lausanne will broaden the discussion to include powerful backers of Syria’s government and rebels. “We’ve asked countries to come, having done some thinking, about a realistic way forward given the differences represented in the room,” a senior U.S. State Department official said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked through ideas, some of which will be presented in Lausanne, the official said. “With all that said, I’m not expecting we will have some major announcement at the end of this. This is going to be, as it has been now for several years, a very difficult process,” the official added.

The new talks will not deliver an immediate solution, but could be the basis of a new process, the official said. Pressure is rising for a halt to a ferocious, three-week-old Syrian government offensive to capture the rebel-held eastern zone of the city of Aleppo, where the United Nations says 275,000 civilians still live and 8,000 rebels are holding out against Syrian, Russian and Iranian-backed forces. Western powers have accused Russia and Syria of committing atrocities by bombing hospitals, killing civilians and preventing medical evacuations, as well as targeting an aid convoy with the loss of around 20 lives.

Syria and Russia counter that they only targeting militants in Aleppo and accuse the United States of breaking the ceasefire by bombing scores of Syrian troops fighting Islamic State insurgents, over which the United States has expressed “regret”. A senior rebel commander said on Friday Syrian government forces would never be able to capture Aleppo’s eastern sector, but a military source said the operation was going as planned.

The United Nations has said food, fuel and medicine are running out in eastern Aleppo and there will be no rations to distribute from the start of next month. In a gesture of apparent desperation, U.N. Syria peace envoy Staffan de Mistura has offered to escort members of an Islamist militant group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, out of Aleppo if that would entice Damascus to forge a ceasefire with the remaining rebels.

According to Lavrov, the key elements would be the “separation of terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition” as well as “humanitarian aid deliveries.” The start of peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel representatives without pre-conditions is another central goal, he noted. The foreign minister appeared cautious in regard to the meeting’s outcomes, saying he doesn’t “have any particular expectations.” “So far [we] can see no steps which our Western partners are undertaking to come closer to the implementation of the existing agreements,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov’s deputy Gennady Gatilov said Russia wants to discuss de Mistura’s offer, as well as elements of last month’s failed truce deal, namely humanitarian aid deliveries and a pullout of both sides’ troops from the Castello Road, a key supply route. “And it’s about time to start moving toward an inclusive political process,” Gatilov told Interfax news agency.

Many in Syria’s opposition say Kerry has put too much trust in Lavrov, with protracted diplomatic wrangling over ceasefires buying time for Russia’s military campaign and obscuring the once central question of the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the clock runs down to the U.S. elections on Nov. 8.

Sources: Reuters/Russia Today/Syria & Iraq News

6-part talks on Syria to be held on Saturday in Lausanne

The foreign ministers of Russia, the US, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Iran will hold talks over Syria on Saturday in Lausanne, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. It said the foreign ministers had agreed to hold the meeting to consider what further steps could be taken to get a Syria settlement.

A senior State Department official confirmed that Kerry would attend the meeting.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview to CNN on Wednesday that Russia wanted a meeting of the countries “who have direct influence of what is going on in the ground”. Sergei Lavrov attacked the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee as being “absolutely irresponsible” and said that they should not be the only group representing Syrian opposition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

US, Russia agree Syria truce holding, extend it by 48 hours

The United States and Russia agreed that the Syrian cessation of hostilities that began on Monday had largely held and should be extended for another 48 hours despite sporadic violence, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. The cessation of hostilities, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday, went into effect on Monday night.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry and Lavrov had spoken by telephone earlier on Wednesday and agreed it was worth extending the truce. Under the deal, the United States and Russia are aiming for reduced violence over seven consecutive days before they move to the next stage of coordinating military strikes against Nusra Front and Islamic State militants, which are not party to the truce.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

“There was agreement that as a whole, despite sporadic reports of violence, the arrangement is holding, and violence is significantly lower in comparison with previous days and weeks,” Toner told a briefing. “As part of the conversation they agreed to extend the cessation for another 48 hours,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict through contacts on the ground, said no deaths from fighting had been reported in the first 48 hours of the truce.

“This recommitment will initially be for 48 hours, and, provided it holds, the U.S. and Russia will discuss extensions, with the aim of achieving an indefinite extension to lower the violence,” Toner explained later. He said Russia needed to use its influence over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ensure that humanitarian aid was delivered to besieged communities under the agreement. “We haven’t seen the humanitarian access yet so we’re still continuing to assess this, talking to the Russians,” he said. “We’re pressuring them to pressure the Assad regime.”

Two aid convoys, each of around 20 trucks carrying mostly food and flour, that were headed for the city of Aleppo have been held up since crossing the Turkish border, according to United Nations and other officials. The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on Tuesday the United Nations was waiting for Damascus to issue letters authorizing the aid deliveries, which are desperately needed in Aleppo, the scene of Syria’s fiercest fighting in recent months. The U.N. has estimated that well over half a million people are living under siege in Syria.

Source: Reuters

Kerry, Lavrov closer to Syria agreement, ‘a few narrow issues remain’

The United States and Russia came closer to an agreement on a breakthrough deal on military cooperation and a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria on Friday, but said they still have issues to resolve before an agreement could be announced.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing a joint news conference after more than nine hours of off-and-on talks in Geneva, said teams from both sides would try to finalize details in coming days in the Swiss city. Kerry said the talks with Lavrov had “achieved clarity on the path forward” but together they offered few details on how they planned to renew a February cessation of hostilities and improve humanitarian assistance. “We don’t want to have a deal for the sake of the deal,” Kerry said. “We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution.”

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the marathon talks with US State Secretary Kerry in Geneva helped to reduce mutual levels of misunderstanding. Both countries will boost their cooperation on Syria, including on the military level, he said. “We have agreed on concrete ways in which we will work with the sides: Russia – with the government and the opposition, that is working with us, the United States – with the opposition, which is cooperating with them,” Lavrov said. In addition to that, the cooperation between Russia’s Khmeimim air base and representatives of the American armed forces in the US base in Jordan is going to be ramped up.

“We have agreed to intensify the bilateral contacts that have somewhat stalled in the last several weeks,” Lavrov said, adding that his is confident that “a regular dialog without any pauses is a key to the realization of all our objectives. It is an achievement that we have been able to reduce areas of misunderstanding and to reduce the level of mutual mistrust between the two countries,” Lavrov said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) before a bilateral meeting focused on the Syrian crisis in Geneva, Switzerland August 26, 2016. [Martial Trezzini/Reuters/Pool]
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) before a bilateral meeting focused on the Syrian crisis in Geneva, Switzerland August 26, 2016. [Martial Trezzini/Reuters/Pool]

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham allegiances a key issue

Russia and the US have agreed on a number of issues as to how boost the peace process on Syria. According to the diplomats, experts from both states will meet in Geneva in the coming days to clarify the details of what has been agreed today. The Russian foreign minister stressed that separation of “moderate forces from the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham militants” is key to reducing the violence in Syria. Lavrov said that Russia briefed the US on a number of rebel groups that it considers terrorist. “In fact, today our American partners for the first time gave us a list of rebel organizations who joined the cessation of hostilities after the US mediation,” Lavrov added. “I don’t see any possibility of assuring a really durable, full-fledged ceasefire without the separation of healthy opposition forces from terrorists,” the minister said. “The understanding of this task between us and our American partners gets increasingly clearer.”

Kerry outlined the steps that can be undertaken to separate the terrorists from the armed opposition, reiterating that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham should be treated like a terrorist group despite the recent rebranding. Drawing a line between the moderate rebels and Al-Nusra remains a “complex question” because the terrorists often share the same territory with rebels, he noted, adding that other nations in the region that support some of the groups should also engage in the process. “We believe there are actions that can be taken to deal with the current construct, some of those involve other nations that are supportive of other opposition groups. Neighbors within the region who have influence over those groups and who have an ability to help separate [JFS and opposition],” he said. Russia and US have been thrashing out the details on how to separate the militant groups from each other for the last several weeks, he added.

“We do not support an independent Kurd initiative”

Both diplomats agreed that the Syrian Kurds should remain in Syria. “We are for a united Syria. We do not support an independent Kurd initiative,” Kerry said, pointing out that the American forces have been engaging in cooperation with “a component” of the Kurdish forces on a “very limited basis.” On his part, Lavrov said, “Kurds must remain a part of the Syrian state, part of resolving the problem, and not a factor that will be used to split Syria apart.” The contacts with the Kurdish minority in Syria were made in a “close cooperation” with Turkey, Kerry said. Turkey considers the Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of the US-backed SDF rebels, one of the targets of its ongoing incursion in Syria. “We understand the sensitivities of our friends in Turkey with respect to this,” Kerry added.

Weighing in on the Turkish “Euphrates Shield” operation in Syria, Lavrov reminded that all countries that had sent military forces to Syria, save for Russia and Iran, are doing so in violation of Syrian sovereignty. “Many countries are represented by their military and army elements on the ground in Syria, but only the Russian and Iranian contingents are staying there upon consent from Damascus,” Lavrov said. “Such is the reality.”

The Russian FM and his US counterpart, John Kerry, met in Geneva to discuss a peaceful solution to resolve the Syrian crisis. They were in talks behind closed doors for over 12 hours on Friday. The meeting of the two top diplomats’ took place at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva. The two were joined by the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura. It was not clear during the day whether the UN Syria envoy would join the negotiators to share his views on how to put an end to the five-year war.

The main point of the negotiations is to involve “the prospects of arranging a close coordination of Russia’s and US efforts in fight against terrorist groups in Syria,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said earlier. Meanwhile, the UN has pushed for a weekly 48-hour truce in the fighting that would allow it to provide humanitarian relief, which has been endorsed by Russia. According to the plan, food and supplies would be delivered simultaneously by internationally monitored vehicles to rebel and government-controlled areas.

Assad’s future not part of the current talks

The talks have been complicated since initial meetings in July by new government attacks on opposition groups, and a significant offensive in the southern part of the divided city of Aleppo led by opposition fighters intermingled with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. In the days ahead the technical teams, which include U.S. and Russian military and intelligence experts, will try to figure out ways to separate the opposition groups, backed by the United States and Gulf Arab countries, from the jihadis.

It was unclear after Friday’s meetings whether outstanding issues could all be resolved between Moscow and Washington, which back opposing parties in the Syrian conflict. The United States has insisted that the Syrian air force, which has dropped barrel bombs and chlorine on residential areas, be grounded but Lavrov said on Friday that was not the goal. Assad’s future is not part of the current talks. Instead, discussions are focused on finding an effective and lasting solution to end the violence, which would open negotiations on a political transition in Syria.

Sources: Russia Today/Reuters/Syria & Iraq News