MESOP INSIDER : Kerry Announces “Clarity” With Russia – BUT No Details

Following his latest talks on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced “clarity on the path forward” over Syria’s 5 1/2-year conflict, but offered no details on a resolution, easing of violence, or provision of humanitarian aid. Kerry and Lavrov spoke for more than nine hours in Geneva and then teams from both sides will try to complete an arrangement in coming days in the Swiss city.

The Secretary of State told reporters:

We don’t want to have a deal for the sake of the deal. We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure.

The US has long struggled to find a way forward in its approach to Syria, despite Kerry’s desire for a resolution before President Obama leaves office, and Russia’s strategy to constrict opposition and rebels has been undermined by a series of developments in the past month.Kerry and Lavrov did not address those events, such as the rebel offensive that has regained ground near Aleppo, the Kurdish victory over regime forces in Hasakah in northeast Syria, or Turkey’s intervention alongside rebels in the north of the country. They also did not pursue the fundamental issue of President Assad’s stay in power.

Instead, they said technical teams will try to figure out ways to separate opposition groups from the “terrorists” of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) — a political line pushed by Russia to justify attacks on opposition territory. The Russian Foreign Secretary declared on Friday, “I don’t see any possibility of assuring a really durable, full-fledged ceasefire without the separation of healthy opposition forces from terrorists.”

Lavrov rebuffed any US attempt to end bombing by Russian and regime air forces, saying this was not the goal of the talks: “The task is not to prevent these or those participants of the conflict from flying but to make those who fly bomb terrorists.”

Kerry insisted, “If the remaining details can be completed, we believe we will be able to address the two primary challenges to the cessation of hostilities – the regime violations and the increasing influence of the al-Nusra Front.”

Lavrov Praises Surrender of Darayya

The two men did refer to Thursday’s surrender of the Damascus suburb of Darayya after a 45-month siege and bombardment by regime forces, with residents removed to nearby regime-run towns and rebels going to the opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Kerry said the regime had “forced the surrender” of Darayya in contravention of a now-dormant February cessation of hostilities agreement.

Lavrov disagreed, hailing the the local accord as an “example” that should be “replicated”. He declared that that another besieged area was “interested in such an operation with mediation of the Russian Federation”.