Syrian ceasefire is priority for peace talks

Major powers sought at talks to re-impose a ceasefire across Syria and ensure aid reaches besieged areas, with Moscow and Washington deeply divided over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad and violence rumbling around the country.

The United States and Russia will help explore who is responsible for ceasefire violations, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, after the talks in Vienna aiming to revive the February “cessation of hostilities”.

“The United States and Russia said they are ready to make progress on the technical level to be able to check who is (responsible) for breaking the ceasefire,” the minister told reporters.

The talks also authorised air drops to improve the humanitarian situation, he added.

Officials and diplomats had said the talks, including the United States, Russia, Iran, European and Middle East powers, were unlikely to lead to decisions that could change the course of the five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people.

A surge in bloodshed in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, wrecked the partial “cessation of hostilities” sponsored by Washington and Moscow, which had allowed UN-brokered indirect talks that included the warring sides to take place in Geneva.

Those talks collapsed last month after the opposition walked out due to a surge in bloodshed. UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura had hoped to launch a new round of peace talks between the two sides by the end of May.

After yesterday’s meetings, de Mistura said no decision had been taken yet on the next round, but “we cannot wait too long”.

Washington insists Assad must go but the president, backed by Moscow and Tehran, is fighting for territory and refuses to step down.

The UN said this month that Syria’s government, which has been on the front foot in the war since its ally Russia intervened last year, was refusing UN demands to deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of people.

Describing the talks as serious and engaged, another Western diplomat said one of the key issues was stopping the violence in a way which successfully separated al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s wing in Syria, from other opposition fighters.

Al-Nusra, along with Islamic State, is not party to the ceasefire.


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