Syria crisis plan: Cessation of hostilities, humanitarian airdrops, peace talks laid out in Munich

 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura (L-R) arrive for a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany, February 12, 2016. © Michael Dalder
An ambitious plan to end hostilities in Syria with verifiable results within a week, revive the Geneva-3 peace talks, and immediately begin delivering humanitarian aid to civilians has been unveiled in Munich, Germany after talks including the US, Russia, and the UN.

Hostilities in Syria could come to a halt within a week after confirmation by the government of President Bashar Assad and the opposition, according to an official communiqué from the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting.

A mechanism to help resolve humanitarian issues in Syria has been developed, which includes the creation of a task force that will begin work on Friday.

A press conference was held after the meeting of the so-called Syria Support Group, with the participation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura.

Kerry noted that the commitments agreed upon during the Munich meeting are only on paper and that the “real test” of progress will be to get all of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict to sign on and honor them.

Russia is counting on the US and other ISSG countries to put pressure on the Syrian opposition to cooperate with the UN, Lavrov said.

The main objective that everyone agrees on is to destroy Islamic State, Lavrov added. He also called the notion that the situation in Syria would improve if Assad’s regime was to abdicate an “illusion.”

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Talk about the need to prepare ground troops for an invasion of Syria will only add fire to the conflict, Russia’s foreign minister stressed.

The aim now is to resume peace talks without preconditions between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the opposition, which is the only format in which they could be successful, Lavrov emphasized.

“The goal of resuming the negotiation process, which was suspended in an atmosphere where part of the [Syrian] opposition took a completely unconstructive position and tried to put forward preconditions, was stressed [at the ISSG meeting]. We noted [today] that the talks must resume as soon as possible in strict compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, without any ultimatums or preconditions,” he said.

While Lavrov, Kerry and Mistura held a press conference to explain the results of the ISSG meeting, separate statements came from several EU leaders. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the US and Russia should coordinate their military actions in Syria “more closely.”

Lavrov made clear that an end in hostilities in Syria would not mean a halt in anti-terrorist activities in the region. Operations against all groups designated by the UN as terrorists will continue, including the fight against Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front.

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Lavrov added that militants are the only ones fleeing from the Syrian city of Aleppo, stressing that they have been receiving support from Turkey.

Meanwhile, Kerry argued that the Syrian government’s military advances would not be enough to win the war and urged for a peaceful resolution to conflict, as well as continued efforts to fight terrorism in the region.

During the press conference, both Russian and American diplomats employed a more friendly rhetoric, complementing their mutual efforts in Syria when it comes to delivering humanitarian by air and working to achieve progress in peace talks.  

“We welcome the readiness of the US and other countries to join in the Russian-Syrian government operation to disseminate humanitarian aid from planes into the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour, the location of the biggest number of citizens without humanitarian aid,” Lavrov stated. 

Other options agreed upon include parachuting aid into other residential locations in need, Lavrov explained, adding that most of the efforts would have to be concentrated on the ground.

In turn, Kerry stressed that it was not Russia or Iran who had interfered with bringing a halt to hostilities in Syria.

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Syria Support Group talks ran longer than expected on Thursday, beginning at 7 pm local time and running over five hours, before resuming again for the finalizing of a communique. The last Syria Support Group meeting was held in Vienna on November 14.

In the beginning of February, the United Nations temporarily suspended peace talks aimed at resolving Syria’s five-year civil war. The UN said that the process was to be resumed on February 25 and called on the sides involved to do more to acheive progress.

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“I have concluded, frankly, that after the first week of preparatory talks, there is more work to be done, not only by us but by the stakeholders,” the UN mediator, Staffan de Mistura, said after meeting with the opposition delegation at a Geneva hotel.

The latest inconclusive Syrian peace talks were attended by representatives of the Syrian government, the Saudi-backed coalition, and the High Negotiation Committee (HNC), which sent 35 leading members, excluding Syrian Kurdish groups, along with some additional moderate opposition members supported by Russia. Turkey insisted on the exclusion of the Syrian Kurdish party, the PYD.

Russian PM warns against triggering ‘permanent war’ in Syria

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned against the initiation of any sort of foreign land operations in Syria, arguing that it could unleash “yet another war on Earth.”

 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev © Ekaterina Shtukina

“All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table, instead of unleashing yet another war on Earth,” Medvedev told Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper. “Any kinds of land operations, as a rule, lead to a permanent war. Look at what’s happened in Afghanistan and a number of other countries. I am not even going to bring up poor Libya.”

The PM was commenting on recent statements from Saudi Arabia claiming that it was ready to send ground troops to Syria.

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“The Americans and our Arab partners must think well: do they want a permanent war? Do they think they can really quickly win it? It is impossible, especially in the Arab world. Everyone is fighting against everyone there,” Medvedev added.