In what is regarded as a breakthrough, the United States and Russia on Saturday morning announced an agreement on Syria that foresees a nationwide cease-fire starting on Monday – and to coordinate military operations against terrorist groups in the country should the action hold.
“Today the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, reduce suffering and resume movement toward a negotiated peace and a transition in Syria…that if followed, has ability t o provide a turning point, a moment of change,” said Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
The agreement, which was sealed after a daylong final negotiating session in Geneva, led by Mr Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, will help create an unlikely new military partnership targeting the Islamic State and al-Qaida as well as new limits on President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Mr Kerry also said the truce would begin on Monday, to coincide with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, and that he hoped it would lead to talks to ultimately “end the conflict”.
“The United States is going the extra mile here because we believe Russia and my colleague have the capability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and come to the table and make peace,” he said.
On Friday evening, the deal nearly seemed to have slipped away after Russian Foreign Minister said he was thinking of “calling it a day” on Syria talks with the United States, at least until next week, after waiting for more than five hours for Kerry to obtain approval from Washington for a deal he said the two had agreed upon.
In an extraordinary appearance in the hall where reporters waited for an anticipated Kerry-Lavrov news conference, Lavrov suddenly strode in and said that he was trying to be patient, but he still had no word from Kerry, who apparently was seeking White House approval in an hours-long secure video communication with national security principals at home.
“I believe it is important for them to check with Washington,” Lavrov said in English. “That’s why I apologize for the delay. We cannot help it. . . . I hope before Washington goes to sleep, we can get some news,” he told reporters, observing that the “vertical” approval process in a democracy was sometimes difficult. “My appeal to you is to be patient.”
With that, Lavrov strode out again. He was quickly followed by United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura, who was also cooling his heels while waiting for Kerry. “I hope to see you very soon here,” he said.