Russia says the outgoing Secretary of State's phone calls to Russian FM Lavrov have drastically increased
US Secretary of State John Kerry has significantly intensified contacts with Russia on Syria, the Kremlin confirmed, substantiating a report that Kerry wants to seal a deal with Moscow before Donald Trump assumes the US presidency in January.
The report, by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, says Kerry is taking a last-ditch effort to stop the Syrian operation in eastern Aleppo, because the Trump administration may “squarely on the side of dictator [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”
Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov confirmed that Kerry has lately intensified contacts with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Syria.
“This [effort] could be called unbelievable, in terms that there have never been so many phone calls between the Secretary of State and Russia’s FM which were focused on discussing a single issue – Syria,” he told journalists. Ushakov refrained from commenting on whether there was any progress on it.
According to the Post piece, which cites four unnamed US officials with the knowledge of the situation, Kerry hopes to seal a localized ceasefire in Aleppo by offering to separate members of the so-called moderate opposition from terrorist groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front). The report says Kerry brought in other nations like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and at times Iran in a bid to seal the deal.
“Officials acknowledge that a frustrated Kerry still has not been given authority by the White House to bring any meaningful pressure to bear against Assad or Russia, placing him in a weak negotiating position. The prospect of Hillary Clinton being elected president gave Kerry some leverage, because she was expected to pursue a more hawkish Syria policy,” Rogin wrote.
A ceasefire in Aleppo on Kerry’s terms may be a hard bargain to sell. For once, Russia insists that US failure to separate moderates from terrorists, which was a key point of the truce negotiated by Moscow and Washington in September, was the reason that ceasefire collapsed.
The Syrian government operation to retake eastern Aleppo from armed groups also appears to be progressing, with latest reports saying that the militants lost a third of their territories to the advancing army. Stopping the siege now may give those fighters time to regroup, rearm and mount a counteroffensive.
Moscow appears to be reluctant to strike any significant deal with the outgoing administration and is waiting for Trump to present all the key figures in his future government.
“We will patiently wait for that team to take their seats and then we are interested in having intensive dialogue with them,”Ushakov said.