Friday

23rd Aug 2019

EU, US and Russia to 'pause' Syria war

  • Kerry in Munich: "This is a pause … the objective is to achieve a durable, long-term ceasefire at some point in time" (Photo: securityconference.de)

Syria hostilities are to “pause” in one week and aid agencies are to have full access under a new accord which, Germany "hopes," will lead to fewer people fleeing to Europe.

The deal, concluded by almost 20 countries at a meeting in Munich, Germany, in the small hours of Friday (12 February) says “cessation of hostilities will commence in one week, after confirmation by the Syrian government and opposition.”

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It notes that fighting can go on against UN-designated “terrorist groups,” such as Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra.

It says “sustained delivery of assistance shall begin this week” to a list of besieged areas, including Deir Ez Zour, Fouah, Kafrayah, rural Damascus, Madaya, Mouadhimiyeh, and Kafr Batna.

It also says the group of 20 or so states - the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) - will create a new “task-force,” under UN auspices, to monitor compliance.

Russia compliance

The ISSG includes France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, the UK, and the US, as well as China, Iran, Russia, and Gulf states, whose foreign ministers attended the talks.

But the EU and the US underlined that Russian compliance will be the main test of the accord.

“The task now is that Moscow and Tehran bring the Assad [Syrian] regime to lay down their arms,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told press.

“Whoever doesn’t cooperate ... must reckon with all the consequences for refusing,” he said.

He added he’s “relieved” because “new hope has arisen” not just for Syrian people, but “also for us in Europe, on a reduction of the pressure of the flow of refugees from the region.”

The UK’s Philip Hammond said the deal will only work if there’s “a major change of behaviour” by Russia.

“Russia claims to be attacking terrorist groups and yet consistently bombs non-extremist groups including civilians. If this agreement is to work, this bombing will have to stop.”

US secretary of state John Kerry was less confrontational.

“We have ... words on paper. What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground,” he said.

He said the accord stipulates “cessation of hostilities” instead of “ceasefire” because the latter term “connotes something ... reflective of sort of an end of conflict.”

“It's distinctly not that. This is a pause … the objective is to achieve a durable, long-term ceasefire at some point in time.”

John and Sergei

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, spoke to press alongside Kerry, whom he called “John.” He said the pact vindicates Russia’s demand to be included in the international solution.

“Our colleagues are becoming more and more aware of the need of such cooperation and we're happy about that,” he said.

He defended Russia’s recent air strikes on Aleppo, an opposition stronghold, which prompted tens of thousands of people to flee toward Europe.

He said parts of the Syrian city are controlled by extermist groups Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jaysh al-Islam, and Ahrar al-Sham.

He noted that in the past “we had quite an emotional discussion on who is targeting right targets,” but he said the ISSG task-force will clarify legitimate objectives.

He also said some aid agencies “lie” about Russian targeting of civilians and he accused Western media of “propaganda.”

“Propaganda was popular in Soviet times in our country. Right now we have abandoned this practice but it seems that a lot of manifestations of such trends are still present in mass media in other countries,” he said.

Assad?

The Russia-US briefing didn't touch on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kerry also let Lavrov’s statement on propaganda pass without remark, despite EU and US concern on Russia’s anti-Western media campaign.

Meanwhile, the ISSG accord left to one side the future of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Western leaders told press on Friday he must go as part of a “negotiated” solution.

But Steinmeier told German media on Thursday: “Syria’s state structures need to be maintained or where necessary re-established. No one wants a power vacuum in the region.”

Opinion

Time for EU to face responsibilities on Syria

Five years after Syrians first took to the streets, it's time for EU leaders to stop acting like selfish, short-termist populists, by making sure the ceasefire sticks and refugees find safe harbour.

Russia 'weaponising' refugees against EU

Russia is “weaponising migration” as part of a broader campaign to extend its influence in Europe, Nato’s military chief has said, echoing German and Turkish concern.

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