The United States has halted its bilateral engagement with Russia on the cessation of hostilities in Syria. The move comes after an intense, prolonged effort on the part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to induce Russia to use its leverage with the Assad regime and commit to a real cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access to besieged communities, and a return to a negotiated process that would lead to a political transition.
Instead, Russia, with the help of Assad’s regional ally Iran, continued to pursue a military course, “inconsistent,” as State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said in a written statement, “with the Cessation of Hostilities as demonstrated on their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need.”
Speaking to the Security Council September 29, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called the situation in Syria one of “sheer and unbridled horror.” He said east Aleppo has descended “into the pitiless and merciless abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Although Russia says it is fighting terrorists in Syria, its targeting of innocent civilians undermines that claim. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said, “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism; it’s barbarism… What they are doing is sowing not only the doom of this country and these people and this proud civilization of Syria, but it is going to generate more refugee flow, more radicalization. What they are doing is a gift to ISIL and Al-Nusrah, the groups that they claim that they want to stop.”
In remarks in Brussels after the U.S. suspended bilateral talks with Russia, Secretary Kerry said the United States will not abandon the Syrian people or its efforts to pursue peace in Syria. The U.S. will still discuss Syria in multilateral negotiations and will still continue “to pursue a meaningful, sustainable, enforceable cessation of hostilities throughout the country – and that,” he said, “includes the grounding of Syrian and Russian combat aircraft in designated areas.”
“We remain committed to a peaceful, stable, whole, united, nonsectarian Syria,” said Secretary Kerry, “and we’re going to continue to stay active in pursuit of that peace.”