Syria peace efforts must continue despite break with Russia: Kerry

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday efforts to end Syria’s war must continue despite Washington’s decision to break off talks with Moscow over what he called its “irresponsible” support for President Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. soldiers drive a military vehicle on the road connecting al-Rai town to Azaz city, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

The United States on Monday suspended talks with Russia on implementing a ceasefire deal in Syria, accusing Moscow of not living up to its commitments to halt fighting and ensure aid reached besieged communities.

“We are not giving up on the Syrian people and we are not abandoning the pursuit of peace,” Kerry said in a speech in Brussels.

“We will continue to pursue a meaningful, sustainable, enforceable cessation of hostilities throughout the country – and that includes the grounding of Syrian and Russian combat aircraft in designated areas.”

Kerry accused Russia of turning a blind eye to Assad’s use of chlorine gas and barrel bombs and suggested it was pursuing a scorched earth policy in place of diplomacy.

“As we know, this tragic war has been made worse by the utter depravity of the regime, that doesn’t hesitate to still use gas, chlorine, mixed with other ingredients to kill its citizens, that drops barrel bombs on hospitals and children and women,” he said.

“You also have the irresponsible and profoundly ill-advised decision by Russia to associate its interests and reputation with that of Assad, a man who has been responsible for torturing more than ten thousand people.”

He said that if Russia was serious about peace, it would have to behave differently than it was now in Syria. “Russia knows exactly what it needs to do in order to get that cessation implemented and in a fair and reasonable way,” he said.

Kerry said all parties had a duty to enable delivery of humanitarian assistance.

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European foreign ministers will meet on Oct. 17 to discuss what they can do to help bring peace, after the European Union proposed a new humanitarian plan at the weekend in coordination with the United Nations for the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

But a senior European diplomat said there was little chance that Russia would change strategy, asserting that Moscow was resorting to the same tactics it used on the Chechen capital Grozny, which was devastated in 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars by Russian forces intent on keeping Chechnya in Russia.

“Their objective is the total destruction of the opposition. They have a Chechen vision of the conflict. Their method is submission by force,” the senior diplomat said.


Russian news agencies, citing Kerry’s Syria interlocutor, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow would continue to make efforts to resolve the Syria crisis despite the U.S. suspension of the talks.

A spokeswoman for U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said he was in “intensive consultations” on the way forward.

The end of the talks could trigger deeper U.S. consideration of military options such as providing more sophisticated arms, logistical support, and training to rebel groups.

But the speed with which the ceasefire collapsed - after a U.N. aid convoy was bombed in Syria - appeared to surprise some U.S. officials, leaving them without a clear plan on the immediate way forward.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been loath to get more deeply involved and U.S. officials have said he is unlikely to do so with less than four months left in office.

Russia said on Tuesday it had deployed an S-300 missile system to its Tartus naval base in Syria.

“The missile battery is intended to ensure the safety of the

naval base...It is unclear why the deployment of the S-300

caused such alarm among our Western partners,” the Defence Ministry said.

Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Angus MacSwan