Syrian Cease-Fire ‘Held Longer Than I Expected,’ Obama Says

AFP_9V87L

A Syrian man carries a child as they evacuate an area following a reported airstrike on April 22, 2016, in the rebel-held neighborhood of Hayy Aqyul in Aleppo.

Photographer: AMEER ALHALBI/AFP/Getty Images
  • President says he will continue to seek a political resolution
  • Obama says Russia's Putin backs `murderous regime' in Syria

President Barack Obama said a cease-fire in Syria that appears to dissolving lasted longer than he expected, and that he would continue to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate an end to the Middle East country’s five-year civil war.

"The cessation of hostilities actually held longer than I expected. For seven weeks we’ve seen a significant reduction of violence in that country," Obama said Friday during a news conference in London with Prime Minister David Cameron.

"We have looked at all options. None of them are great," Obama said. "We are going to play this option out," he said of seeking a political resolution of the conflict.

Obama has said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “shattered’’ his country and lost legitimacy to lead his people after a five-year civil war that has left more than 250,000 dead and forced millions to flee their homes. Conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere have sparked Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War II, and threaten to undermine European unity.

Assad has refused calls to step down and has benefited from a Russian bombing campaign that targeted his enemies. Opposition representatives and the Syrian government agreed to participate in peace talks brokered by the United Nations earlier this year, and signed off on a partial cease-fire.

Putin “is along with Iran the preeminent backer of a murderous regime that I do not believe can regain legitimacy in his country because he’s murdered a lot of people," Obama said of Assad on Friday. Even so, he said, Assad’s government must be included in peace talks.

"We cannot end the crisis in Syria without political negotiations and without getting all the parties around the table to craft a transition plan," he said. "By necessity, that means there are going to be some people on one side of the table who I deeply disagree with and whose actions I deeply abhor."

The main Syrian opposition group on Monday quit the negotiations as fighting began to ramp up in parts of Syria where the ceasefire had largely held since February. The White House has blamed the Assad regime for repeated violations of the agreement. The opposition group said it won’t return unless the government halts its attacks and allows humanitarian aid into contested parts of the country.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria who is chairing the peace negotiations, said on Thursday that he would continue the talks despite the walk-out by opposition leaders, which he described as “political gesturing” aimed at applying pressure.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN on Thursday defended the Syrian government’s renewed offensive as a response to "provocations" by an arm of al-Qaeda.

Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday and encouraged him to apply pressure to the Syrian government while saying he would urge the moderate opposition to return to peace talks.

“If in fact the cessation falls apart, we’ll try to put it back together again,” he said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE