Paris, Ankara – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov have agreed to set aside discussions on the fate of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, from their ongoing talks over the crisis in Syria.
Well-informed European sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Assad’s fate was a controversial issue, and its inclusion in the U.S.-Russian negotiations would hamper the whole political process.
The sources added that the two foreign ministers have decided, instead, to focus on the situation on the ground, in particular the means to effectively implement a ceasefire in Aleppo and other regions, lift the existing blockades and push both the regime and opposition factions to return to dialogue in Geneva.
Meanwhile, media reports said that Kerry and Lavrov were expected to meet in Geneva to discuss the Syrian crisis, despite a recent telephone conversation that revealed wide disagreements between the two officials over a solution to the five-year-old conflict.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have expressed converging views over the need to remove Assad from the transitional phase.
During a joint news conference in Ankara on Thursday, Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were the first countries to support the Syrian moderate opposition.
Jubeir also said that the Kingdom was the first to attack ISIS within the international coalition. He also noted that there is no alternative to a political solution in Syria, adding that a military solution would only be adopted when all political options are depleted.
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign affairs ministry said that Lavrov spoke over the telephone with Kerry at the latter’s request.
A statement issued on the ministry’s website said that both sides discussed potential opportunities for Russian-American cooperation in defeating the terrorist groups operating in Syria.
The statement added that the conversation was a follow-up to the fundamental understandings reached by the presidents of Russia and the U.S. during their meeting in Hangzhou, China, on September 5.
It also said that the two ministers discussed the means to address humanitarian problems and promote a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
For his part, Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said several challenges were to be resolved in the U.S.-Russia talks.
“We are working hard to resolve them,” Toner told reporters in Washington on Wednesday, adding that he does expect the two to meet at some point. “We wouldn’t still be doing it if we didn’t believe there was some hope for success, but I can’t say that there’s a big hope for success,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told CNN on Wednesday that Russia bears responsibility for the head of the Syrian regime’s actions and his failure thus far to agree to a ceasefire in his country’s five-year-old conflict.
“It could use its influence to help put an end to this civil war,” Carter told CNN in an interview in London. “They bear the responsibility of the consequences of things that they could avoid,” he added.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a press briefing on Wednesday that the ceasefire introduced in February 2016 helped reduce the level of armed confrontation, especially around Damascus, Latakia, western Homs province, and southern Syria.
She added that efforts were stepped up to resolve the crisis, primarily in the form of local truces, while humanitarian access has significantly expanded.
The ministry’s spokesperson added that terrorists remained focused on disrupting the ceasefire.
“There is a pattern here – the closer Russia and the United States get to an agreement on close cooperation in a decisive confrontation with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in all their incarnations in Syria, including affiliated groups, the more high-profile and brazen the attacks of the terrorists become. They realize that as soon as the ceasefire takes root and Syria embarks on a peaceful political course, they are doomed, and their days are numbered,” Zakharova said.