U.S., Russia disagree on ceasefire timeline for Syria

MUNICH - Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials say, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups.

See Full Article

The United States has countered with demands for the fighting to stop immediately, the officials said Wednesday. Peace talks are supposed to resume by Feb. 25.

The talk of new ceasefire plans comes as the U.S., Russia and more than a dozen other countries meet in Munich to try to halt five years of civil war in the Arab country. The conflict has killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Russia says it is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's government as part of a counterterrorism campaign. But the West says the majority of its strikes are targeting moderate groups that are opposed to Assad and the Islamic State.

The most recent Russian-backed offensive, near Aleppo, prompted opposition groups to walk out of peace talks last month in Geneva, while forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee toward the Turkish border.

The U.S. officials weren't authorized to speak publicly about private diplomatic discussions in the run-up to the Munich conference and demanded anonymity. One said the U.S. can't accept Russia's offer because opposition forces could suffer irreversible losses in northern and southern Syria before the ceasefire ever takes hold.

The officials said the U.S. counterproposal is simple: A ceasefire that is effective immediately and is accompanied by full humanitarian access to Syria's besieged civilian centres.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Germany Wednesday, had talks planned late in the evening with UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura and Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, a ksyriey backer of Syria's rebel groups.

The Obama administration has been trying for months to clinch a ceasefire and pave the way for a transition government in Syria that would allow parties to the conflict to concentrate on defeating the threat posed by the Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

But after having long demanded Assad's ouster, the shift in the U.S. focus to combating terrorism has resulted in a confusing mix of priorities and a layered strategy in Syria that few understand, and even fewer see working. Beyond Russia, the administration has often struggled to keep its own allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia in line.

"We will approach this meeting in Munich with great hopes that this will be a telling moment," Kerry said Tuesday in Washington. His peace push coincides with Defence Secretary Ash Carter's attendance at a gathering in Brussels to hash out military options with NATO partners.

Brett McGurk, the Obama administration's point-man for defeating the Islamic State, said Russia's Aleppo offensive was having the perverse effect of helping the extremists by drawing local fighters away from the battle against IS and to the war against Syria's government.

"What Russia's doing is directly enabling ISIL," McGurk told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington.

But the panel's top Democrat echoed some of the frustration of his Republican colleagues with the larger U.S. strategy.

"It seems as if we're only halfheartedly going after ISIS, and halfheartedly helping the (rebel) Free Syria Army and others on the ground," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. He urged a "robust campaign, not a tentative one, not one that seems like we're dragging ourselves in ... to destroy ISIS and get rid of Assad."

Kerry emphasized Tuesday that U.S. officials "are not blind to what is happening." He said the Aleppo battle makes it "much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation."

But the U.S. has staked its hopes for an end to the five-year civil war in Syria on the peace talks and Assad's eventual departure, saying the American public has no appetite for a military solution.

To that end, Washington has tempered its calls dating back to August 2011 for Assad to immediately leave power. And to get Russia on board, it now won't even say that Assad should be barred from running for re-election if and when a new Syrian constitution is drafted.

The ambiguity has emboldened Assad's supporters, Russia and Iran, while upsetting American allies in the Middle East, who are frustrated by a process that appears to lock the Syrian leader in place well into 2017 - and perhaps beyond.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Detective: Robert Durst's wife told neighbour of beating, threats

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES - The missing wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst once told a neighbour that her husband had beat her and she feared he would kill her, a retired detective testified Tuesday. Source
  • 2 teen girls in custody after missing woman found dead in Manitoba First Nation

    Canada News CTV News
    FORT ALEXANDER, Man. -- Two teenaged girls have been charged in the death of a woman reported missing in Manitoba. RCMP say a 19-year-old woman from Powerview was last seen on Saturday. Police started searching on Sunday after she was reported missing and got a call later that day about a dead woman near a residence in the Sagkeeng First Nation. Source
  • No hint of resignation in Andrew Potter's apology to McGill principal, board members, documents show

    Canada News CBC News
    A day after his controversial article appeared in Maclean's, Andrew Potter sent an email to McGill's principal and board members of the university's Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) expressing regret — but offering no indication he intended to resign. Source
  • P.E.I. says it's top in Canada when it comes to recycling and composting

    Canada News CTV News
    CHARLOTTETOWN - When it comes to recycling and composting, residents of Prince Edward Island can now boast they're the best in Canada. The P.E.I. government is citing newly released figures from Statistics Canada that show the province keeps more waste out of landfills, per person, than anywhere else in the country. Source
  • Sexual assault survivors to get free legal advice under new N.L. program

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Sexual assault survivors can obtain free, independent legal advice under a new program in Newfoundland and Labrador funded by the federal government. Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was in St. Source
  • Dancing humanoid robot rolls in to Calgary banks

    Canada News CBC News
    The next time you walk into an ATB branch, you could be greeted by a four foot tall, dancing humanoid robot named Pepper. The companion robot, created by Softbank Robotics America, is the first of its kind capable of recognizing human emotion, and this is Pepper's first foray into the Canadian market. Source
  • Witness chokes back tears describing hit-and-run death at Calgary gas station

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- A woman who witnessed the hit-and-run death of a Calgary gas station worker in 2015 choked back tears Tuesday as she described the incident. Joshua Cody Mitchell, 22, is on trial facing several charges including second-degree murder in an incident at a Centex gas station in June 2015. Source
  • Deported illegal accused of raping sleeping girl, 9

    World News Toronto Sun
    An illegal Mexican immigrant who was booted from the U.S. 16 years ago is accused of sneaking back into the country and raping a nine-year-old girl as she slept. Cops say Santiago Martinez-Flores, 48, broke in through the little girl’s window in Clackamas, Oregon and sexually assaulted her. Source
  • United ranked worst for customer satisfaction

    World News Toronto Sun
    United Airlines was hitting turbulence with customers even before its spectacular PR debacle in Chicago two weeks ago. A new survey from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) of frequent fliers ranked the airline as worst among its peers. Source
  • Wild bison calves born in Banff National Park 'a huge step' to reintroduction

    Canada News CBC News
    Bison recently introduced into Banff's backcountry are settling into their new homes by welcoming new offspring to the herd. Parks Canada says it's the first time wild bison calves have been born in Banff's backcountry in 140 years. Source