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International pressure on Russia grows over Syria

September 30, 2016

There has been increased diplomatic pressure on Russia to stop its airstrikes on Aleppo and allow humanitarian access. The US and Germany said Russia bears special responsibility for ending the fighting in Syria.

Syrien Krieg Mann mit verletztem Kind in Aleppo
Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

The US Secretary of State said on Thursday that talks with Moscow made no sense when Russian and Syrian warplanes were bombing rebel-held areas of Syria's largest city. He said the US had no indication of Russia's seriousness of purpose.

"I think we are on the verge of suspending the discussion because, you know, it's irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place, to be sitting there, trying to take things seriously," Kerry said. "There is no notion or indication of seriousness of purpose with what is taking place right now," he told a conference in Washington.

Kerry's spokesman John Kirby told reporters Kerry had again called Lavrov on Thursday "and continued their conversation" but apparently without making a breakthrough. "I think the secretary was just as candid and blunt today with Foreign Minister Lavrov as he was yesterday," Kirby said.

Merkel phones Obama, Erdogan, Putin

The White House said Thursday that Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with US President Barack Obama by phone and they agreed that Russia and the Syrian regime "bear special responsibility for ending the fighting in Syria and granting the UN humanitarian access to besieged and hard to reach areas in Syria."

Obama and Merkel condemned what they called "barbarous" Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes. They condemned the airstrikes in eastern Aleppo, an area "populated with hundreds of thousands of civilians, half of whom are children."

A statement released by Merkel's office said the Chancellor and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also spoke by phone Thursday. The two leaders said Russia, the Syrian government's chief backer on the international stage, bears "special responsibility to calm the violence and thereby give any chance to a political process."

Merkel also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, urging him to do all he could to improve the "catastrophic humanitarian situation" in Syria, a German government spokesman said. The Chancellor had expressed "great concern about the situation in Syria and urged President Putin to do everythign possible to improve conditions for the civilian population," the spokesman said. 

Syrien Aleppo Menschen zwischen Trümmern
Civilians and rescuers in Al-Shaar in AleppoImage: Getty Images/AFP/K. Al-Masri

Other alternatives

Kerry said the US would pursue other alternatives, "barring some clear indication by the warring parties that they are prepared to consider how to approach this more effectively." However, speaking on Thursday at an event organized by The Atlantic magazine, Kerry outlined no new approaches for bringing peace to Syria.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was "very distressed" by reports from Syria and had asked his team to "look for and evaluate additional options that we can undertake to try to reduce the violence."

Syrien Weißhelme in Aleppo
Rescue teams in Aleppo 'White Helmets' search for survivorsImage: Reuters/A. Ismail

Washington has been working with Moscow for months to try to secure a cease-fire in Syria. The latest truce collapsed last week after several days of relative calm. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would press on with its bombing campaign in Syria. Assad's forces are waging an assault on Aleppo's rebel-held eastern sector.

A last last chance?

Kerry appeared to offer Russia another last chance, however. "It's one of those moments where we're going to have to pursue other alternatives for a period of time, barring some clearer indication by the warring parties that they're prepared to consider approaching this more effectively," Kerry said.

Russia said on Thursday that its air force will continue to target the Syrian regime's enemies and brushed off US warnings as "clumsy." 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged Washington to deliver on a pledge to separate moderate Syrian opposition fighters from "terrorists."

Russia's foreign ministry said that while a seven-day ceasefire plan proposed by Washington was unacceptable, the Kremlin was open to a 48-hour "humanitarian pause" in Aleppo to ease humanitarian suffering there.


Syrian forces target rebels in Aleppo

jbh/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)