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'Detective Story': Russia, US Still Cannot Reach Agreement on Syria

© REUTERS / Omar SanadikiSmoke rises after strikes on Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016.
Smoke rises after strikes on Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016. - Sputnik International
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Washington has withdrawn its proposals, which were previously handed over to Moscow, on the settlement in eastern Aleppo. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Americans are currently working on an alternative plan to solve the situation in the city.

"They have withdrawn their document and have a new one. Our initial impression is that this new document backtracks, and is an attempt to buy time for the militants, allow them to catch their breath and resupply," the minister commented.

A Syrian government soldier gestures a v-sign under the Syrian national flag near a general view of eastern Aleppo after they took control of al-Sakhour neigbourhood in Aleppo, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 28, 2016 - Sputnik International
This is What's Behind Turning Point in Fight for Syria's Aleppo
The situation in Aleppo has significantly deteriorated in recent months. The city and its surroundings have seen fierce clashes. Terrorist groups affiliated with al-Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat Fatah al Sham) are keeping control over thousands of civilians in eastern Aleppo, preventing them from leaving the area via the designated humanitarian corridors.

Eastern Aleppo is currently encircled by government troops fighting to liberate the city from the rebels.

© REUTERS / SANASyrians that evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo gather to board buses, in a government held area in Aleppo, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 29, 2016.
Syrians that evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo gather to board buses, in a government held area in Aleppo, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 29, 2016. - Sputnik International
Syrians that evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo gather to board buses, in a government held area in Aleppo, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 29, 2016.

In November, the Syrian Army managed to make significant advances in the eastern part of the city. As a result, the militants lost control over nearly half of the territory.

According to the Russian Center for Syrian reconciliation, by the end of November, the Syrian Army liberated 40 percent of eastern Aleppo from terrorists.

Kerry’s New Proposals

Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin vetoes a Security Council vote on a French-Spanish resolution on Syria at the UN headquarters, October 8, 2016, in New York City - Sputnik International
Moscow Hopes US Secretary of State Kerry Continues Work on Aleppo Initiative
Until recently, talks between Russia and the United States were undermined by that fact that Washington promoted attempts to protect al-Nusra Front. Moscow has stressed that such moves were unacceptable.

However, during a meeting in Rome on December 2, US State Secretary John Kerry handed over to Sergei Lavrov new proposals on Aleppo. The Russian minister said they complied with Moscow’s approach to the problem.

Russia was ready to immediately send its military experts to Geneva to launch consultations with the American side and designate the terms to liberate Aleppo from terrorists.

According to the new package of proposals, Russian and US experts were expected to come to an agreement on the routes and terms of the withdrawal of militants from the city. The next move would be establishing a ceasefire regime in Aleppo.

A Russian soldier stands near a bus carrying people who came back to inspect their homes in government controlled Hanono housing district in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016 - Sputnik International
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Earlier, Russian experts underscored that the withdrawal of armed militants from the city would mean that the fight with terrorists would continue in other areas.

The US State Department reluctantly commented on the new attempts by Moscow and Washington to reach an agreement on Syria. US Department of States spokesman Mark Toner said he could not confirm the information about the new talks.

"I’ve seen those comments. We don’t have anything to confirm at this point. Obviously, we’re very seized with the situation, the very dire situation in Aleppo. There was some discussion coming out of the meeting in Rome on Friday that there would be technical talks taking place this week, but we don’t have anything to confirm at this point," Toner said at a press briefing on Monday.

An Attempt to Buy Time?

On Tuesday, Sergei Lavrov called the new attempt by Moscow and Washington to come to an agreement on Syria a "detective story."

In a period of just five days, the US offered a plan, agreed it with Russia, changed its mind and made another proposal contradicting with the initial plan.

"As for consultations on Aleppo, it's a detective story. On December, 2 in Rome, US State Secretary John Kerry asked me to support the document which the Americans gave to us," Lavrov said at a press conference.

A general view taken with a drone shows Aleppo's historic citadel, controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, as seen from a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, October 12, 2016 - Sputnik International
Lavrov: US Finally Moves Closer to Russia on Syria's Aleppo
The Russian minister added that the document complied with Moscow’s view of the situation.

The timeline goes like this. On December 2, Kerry handed over to Lavrov a package of proposals on Syria. Moscow welcomed the plan and said it was ready to send military experts for consultations in Geneva. Then, on December 5, Lavrov said that Washington had asked for a delay and set December 7 to begin the expert talks. However, the next day it was reported that the consultations would not start on December 7 because Washington had withdrawn the proposals and was working on a new plan.

"Suddenly, last night we receive from them [the United States] a message that they, unfortunately, will not be able to meet tomorrow [on Wednesday in Geneva], because they changed their minds, their document was withdrawn and now they have a new document, which… changes everything back, and again looks like an attempt to buy time in order to let militants replenish supplies and take a breath," Lavrov said.

Militants Refuse to Leave Aleppo

After Moscow announced a new attempt to negotiate with Washington on eastern Aleppo, militant commanders said they would not surrender and peacefully leave the city.

Speaking to Reuters from Turkey, Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim group said militants fighting in Aleppo had told US officials on Saturday they would not leave.

"The military commanders in Aleppo said 'we will not leave the city.' There is no problem with corridors for civilians to leave, but we will not leave the city'," Malahifji said.

In turn, Moscow said that at the time there was no agreement between Russia and the US on the terms and conditions of militants’ withdrawal from the city.

© AFP 2022 / GEORGE OURFALIANA fighter from the Syrian pro-government forces mans a riffle inside a damaged house in the recently recaptured village of Joubah during an offensive towards the area of Al-Bab in Aleppo province, on November 25, 2016
A fighter from the Syrian pro-government forces mans a riffle inside a damaged house in the recently recaptured village of Joubah during an offensive towards the area of Al-Bab in Aleppo province, on November 25, 2016 - Sputnik International
A fighter from the Syrian pro-government forces mans a riffle inside a damaged house in the recently recaptured village of Joubah during an offensive towards the area of Al-Bab in Aleppo province, on November 25, 2016

"Firstly, the fact that the militants have refused says nothing as there's nothing they can refuse yet. The Russia-US agreement has not been formalized yet," Lavrov said.

"Any way, if somebody refuses to leave [Aleppo] on good terms, he will be eliminated as I understand. There is no other way out," he added.

Someone Wants to Undermine Actions of John Kerry

Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front - Sputnik International
Lavrov: Creation of 'Army of Aleppo' Could Just Be Rebranding of al-Nusra Front
Previously, Moscow has repeatedly said that despite John Kerry’s commitment to overcome the stalemate in Syria, Russia and could not establish serious dialogue on the problem with the White House.

"The same thing happened with our agreements with Kerry on September 9, that have already been reached and came into force, and then the United States began to look for excuses to abandon it, and eventually found a pretext, and have announced that they are out of these agreements," Lavrov said.

"It is difficult to understand who decides there [in Washington], but apparently, there are many people who want to undermine the credibility and actions of John Kerry," the minister suggested.

On September 9, Russia and the US agreed a plan on Syrian settlement. The document included a ceasefire regime and coordination of operations between Moscow and Washington.

© REUTERS / Kevin LamarqueU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of their press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of their press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016 - Sputnik International
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of their press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016

On October 3, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said the US was abandoning bilateral cooperation with Russian on the ceasefire in Syria, leaving only military channels open to prevent collisions between Russia and American aircraft.

In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry called the decisions deeply disappointing. It also said that Washington’s withdrawal from cooperation with Moscow indicated the inability of the US to fulfill its obligations.

Resolution in the UN Security Council

Recently, the United Nations Security Council considered a resolution submitted by Egypt, Spain and New Zealand on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo.

A Russian soldier walks to a military vehicle in goverment controlled Hanono housing district in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016 - Sputnik International
Aleppo Resolution Vetoed by Russia and China Was Designed to 'Save Terrorists'
The document called for a 10-day-long ceasefire in Aleppo in order to send humanitarian aid to the besieged city and the resumption of peace talks between the government and the Syrian rebels.

However, the document was vetoed by Russia and China on Monday. Venezuela also voted against it, while Angola abstained. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Russia has voted against a resolution on Syria six times.

Earlier, Sergei Lavrov called the document counterproductive. Moscow warned other countries in advance that it would vote against the resolution.

An immediate ceasefire and a humanitarian pause "which the authors of the resolution would give to the militants will be definitely used by the extremists to regroup and reinforce, thus complicating the liberation of eastern Aleppo," Lavrov said.

He added that the resolution was a provocative move undermining Russia-US efforts on Syrian settlement.

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