Kerry Says Russia’s Choices Are Key to Resolving Syria Civil War

  • Ending fighting requires ‘big magnanimous choices’ from Russia
  • France’s Ayrault says opposition willing to negotiate

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry all but conceded that Russia holds the key to ending the Syrian Civil War and persuading the Assad regime to negotiate a political settlement.

“We’re trying to do more than wring our hands and express our outrage,” Kerry said Saturday in Paris after a meeting of countries that support Syria’s beleaguered moderate rebels. “There could be a way forward but it depends on big magnanimous choices from Russia.”

Forces loyal to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian air power and Shiite militias from Iran and Lebanon, have retaken much of rebel-held Aleppo in recent days. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it would only allow the rebels to regroup.

Kerry said Russian and U.S. teams were meeting in Geneva Saturday to work out details on how surrounded rebel groups may be allowed to leave Aleppo. “The regime and Russia have a fundamental responsibility here: They have to put guarantees in place that people aren’t marching to their death.” He said the bombings of Aleppo constitute “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the internationally recognized Syrian opposition is ready to resume negotiations without conditions, though he didn’t detail which of the divided rebel groups would be be willing to participate.

Besides Kerry and Ayrault, Saturday’s meeting at the French Foreign Ministry included the diplomats from Qatar, Germany, Turkey and Britain, as well as representatives of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Italy.

The ministers criticized Russia and the regime for focusing on retaking Aleppo, while rarely fighting Islamic State forces in the east of the country. “The Aleppo campaign isn’t about combating terrorism but eliminating political dissent,” Ayrault said. “The real combat against terrorism is elsewhere.” The U.S., France and Britain are backing Kurdish and other forces moving towards Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

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