Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia to stop supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying the support was hampering peace talks aimed at ending three years of fighting.
Assad has been stonewalling at negotiations in Geneva because he still thinks he can win militarily, Kerry said today in Jakarta. Assad continues to bomb the Syrian people and destroy his own country with the support of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, Kerry said.
“Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are in fact enabling Assad to double down,” Kerry said at a press conference in the Indonesian capital at the end of a three-nation Asian visit.
The comments highlight mounting U.S. frustration with Russia, an Assad ally, in the months since the two countries reached a deal on destroying Syria’s chemical weapons that helped avert a U.S. military strike. Kerry’s remarks are also the latest signal of U.S. concern that the United Nations-backed peace talks may fail.
Syrian government and opposition representatives ended a second round of talks in Geneva without agreeing on a date for another meeting, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Feb. 15. Negotiations ended after Assad’s regime refused to discuss a transitional government with an opposition delegation, Brahimi told reporters. The talks began on Jan. 24.
Russia won’t allow the UN to approve any aid to Syria that would enter the country without the Syrian government’s approval, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow today, Interfax reported.
Russia is investigating information that external “sponsors” of Syria’s opposition are trying to form a new structure to replace the National Coalition with groups that didn’t join it, Lavrov was cited as saying.
More than 130,000 people have died in the fighting, which has sent more than 2 million refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. The Syrian government insists on tackling terrorism - - its term for the opposition -- while the rebels want to focus on a transitional government to replace Assad.
“Russia and al-Assad have not engaged in the discussions along the promise and required standard that both Russia spoke up for and the regime spoke up for,” Kerry said. “They have refused to open up one moment of discussion legitimately about a transitional government and it is very clear that al-Assad is continuing to try to win this on the battlefield rather than come to the negotiation table with good faith.”
In addition to an escalating humanitarian disaster, a prolonged civil war in Syria is rapidly becoming a proxy war between Shiite Muslim Persian Iran and the Sunni Muslim Arab states of the Persian Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said a U.S. intelligence official who follows the conflict.
The breakdown of the talks and the resulting continuation of the fighting will add to the pressures of a growing refugee population and may encourage Islamic militancy in neighboring Jordan and Iraq. The breakdown may also foster further Kurdish independence movements in Turkey, Iraq and parts of Syria and Iran, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because intelligence assessments are classified.
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