Kerry Heading to Geneva for More Syria Talks With Lavrov

  • U.S. agreed to meeting after making Lavrov wait a day
  • Joint efforts to find accord have fallen short before

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Geneva in yet another effort to strike a Syria cease-fire deal with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the State Department said.

“Their discussion follows recent conversations on Syria and will focus on reducing violence, expanding humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, and moving towards a political solution needed to end the civil war,” the department said in a statement announcing the meeting scheduled for Friday.

Russia announced on Wednesday that Kerry and Lavrov had agreed to meet for talks in the Swiss city on Sept. 8 and 9. Even after the U.S. denied any such agreement, Russia insisted the meeting was still on track and Lavrov traveled from Moscow for it.

The maneuvering that left Lavrov cooling his heels in Geneva on Thursday reflected the complexities behind efforts to find a political solution to Syria’s 5 1/2-year civil war. It also may have underscored the U.S.’s complaint that Russia had backtracked on earlier steps toward an agreement.

For a QuickTake explaining Syria’s divisions, click here.

A few hours before announcing Kerry’s trip, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington, “We’re just not at a point” to confirm a meeting “and that it’s worth his while” for Kerry to go.

With a Geneva meeting back on, Faysal Itani, an analyst with the Atlantic Council in Washington, predicted a U.S.-Russian accord. “Whether the local parties agree or abide” by it “is, of course, another matter,” he said.

The U.S. has been locked in tough negotiations with Russia, whose military intervention in Syria last year reversed the course of the war in favor of its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two countries had hoped to conclude a deal in Geneva almost two weeks ago and then again over the weekend in China, where world leaders had gathered for the Group of 20 summit, but came away empty-handed.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 280,000 people and sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe. It has also let Islamic State seize territory that it’s used as a base to direct and inspire terror attacks worldwide. A partial “cessation of hostilities” in Syria brokered by the U.S. and Russia in February quickly broke down, and broader talks in Geneva over a political solution to the crisis have stalemated.

Russian Warplanes

The U.S. has proposed sharing intelligence with Russia to carry out strikes against Islamic State as well as the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, now known as Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham. Under this plan, Syria’s air force would be grounded in parts of the country in an effort to halt the humanitarian crisis and end bombing of moderate opposition groups that are supported by the U.S. and its allies, while the various parties would come to the table for talks on a political settlement.

Assad’s forces, backed by pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia and Russian air power, this week cut off the last rebel supply line to the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo, restoring a siege that was broken last month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Syrian troops and their allies also retook almost all the territory lost since a July 31 rebel offensive in south and southwestern Aleppo province, according to the group, which monitors the conflict through activists on the ground.

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