Kerry to press Russia on reducing hostilities in ceasefire, future of Assad’s leadership
EU Foreign Affairs head Federica Mogherini and UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura give a press conference following a meeting during negotiations of peace talks on Syria to the United Nations Office in Geneva on March 23, 2016. (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)
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After Europe’s foreign policy chief arrived unexpectedly in Geneva in an attempt to strengthen peace talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry aims to press President Putin over a political transition for Syria on Thursday.
As a fragile ceasefire remains in place, Europe is pressing the warring sides to get along progressively with negotiations. Kerry wants to “get down to brass tacks” on the question of President Bashar al-Assad’s future, according to a US State Department official.
The head of Syria’s delegation in Geneva showed positive vibes after meeting European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, a rare encounter with a senior Western figure.
“For the first time, I can tell you that we were able to break the impasse, maybe in the form and a little bit in substance,” said the representative from Syria's delegation, adding that the government would attend the next round of talks after legislative elections in government-held areas on April 13.
No details were given however, and Mogherini said the EU had not altered its position on the need to start a political transition in Damascus. The Saudi-backed opposition, whose chief delegate also met Mogherini, has said there are no points of convergence.
The negotiations have been bogged down on a series of issues. One delegate cleared out that it was up to Kerry and Putin to create a breakthrough.
Randa Kassis, who heads up a Moscow-backed opposition, said “We’re waiting for a US-Russian accord to solve the (key) issue once and for all. She added that they will continue with this process until they resolve it.
While the United States want Assad to step aside, Russia says only the Syrian people can decide his fate at the ballot box and has bristled at any talk of regime change.
Kerry is holding talks with Putin at the Kremlin on Thursday, in a meeting arranged after the Russian leader’s surprise announcement on March 14 that he was partially withdrawing his forces from Syria.
“The Secretary would like to now really hear where President Putin is in his thinking … on a political transition” in Syria, the official said as Kerry arrived in Moscow.
“Obviously what we are looking for, and what we have been looking for, is how we are going to transition Syria away from Assad’s leadership,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
- Kerry says the test of ceasefire for Syria is imminent
- A tiny window of opportunity: Ceasefire and peace talks for Syria
- Steps to implement Syrian ceasefire worrying for Daesh controlled Raqqa
- US urges Syria not to disrupt peace talks, rejects Assad as a ‘red line’ for transition
- Russia proposes peace plan in Syria - without Assad as president