US failed to persuade moderate opposition to withdraw from Al-Nusra-controlled areas – Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. © Sergei Karpukhin
Syrian moderate opposition has failed to withdraw from areas controlled by Al-Nusra Front terrorists, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, blaming the US for failing to exert influence on the opposition and questioned its claims of being moderate.

Washington has itself earlier raised the issue of moderate opposition forces, who are part of the ceasefire agreement in Syria, being present in Al-Nusra-controlled areas, Lavrov told reporters on Monday.

Washington officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, agreed with Moscow’s stance “that if these groups want to fulfill the conditions of the ceasefire and don’t want to look like terrorist supporters, they must do a simple thing – change their dislocation area and physically separate themselves from the terrorists,” the minister elaborated.

According to Lavrov, the US has repeatedly promised Russia to exert their influence on moderate opposition, but the minister said that “those promises are still not fulfilled.”

“If this moderate opposition doesn’t want to leave the areas occupied by Al-Nusra, maybe it is not moderate? Maybe they are just those, who cooperate with Al-Nusra despite the UN Security Council resolution?" he asked.

The FM assured that the Syrian government forces “aren’t carrying out military action against that part of the opposition, which accepted the terms of the truce.”

“The Syrian army, backed by the Russian Air-Space Forces, is fighting against the terrorists,” he stressed.

The top Russian diplomat said that “around the city of Aleppo, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has very strong positions and there’s quite a large area occupied by Al-Nusra Front.”

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Both terrorist groups are trying to improve their positions in the Aleppo area. They are, I stress once again, a legitimate target for those, fighting against terrorism in Syria,” he added.

‘Washington must bring Ankara to its senses’

Lavrov again urged the Syrian Kurds, who were very effective in fighting Islamic State, to be granted a seat at the intra-Syrian talks in currently underway in Geneva.

He stressed that the opposition delegation at the negotiations in the Swiss capital must of a “truly representative character.”

“This would require out US partners to just bring to senses their Turkish allies, who are blocking the Democratic Union Party of Syrian Kurds (PYD) from joining the talks,” the FM said.

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Turkey is also among the nations, who are pushing for the military solution in Syria counter to the international peace effort, Lavrov stressed.

“Despite the denial from Washington, there are many people, who wish to think about certain 'Plan B', if not in the heart of the Pentagon, then certainly in the [Middle Eastern, Western Asian] region,” he explained.

“In particular, I can mention Turkey, which doesn’t leave the attempts to intervene [into Syria] by force” and topple the country’s government of President Bashar Assad, the minister added.

Those, behind the ‘Plan B,’ are “counting on the collapse of the Syrian peace talks, which would allow pumping more arms into Syria for the inappeasable opposition so that it could solve the task of removing the government militarily,” he said.

The Russia-US brokered ceasefire kicked off in Syria on February 27 and was supported by various armed opposition groups, but excluded terrorists from Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front.
Lavrov also refuted rumors of secret talks on the fate of President Assad, calling them another attempt to derail the peace process in Syria.

The claims that there is some sort of a secret negotiation channel and that, moreover, in the framework of this secret channel someone promised to decide the fate of Assad outside the framework of the intra-Syrian talks ... are not true,” he said.

“It’s an attempt to disrupt the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions, in which… it’s directly stated that only the Syrian people will determine the fate of Syria," the FM added.

The minister also criticized the European Union for not trying to suppress what he called Turkey’s aggressive ambitions towards Syria.

He noted that Ankara repeatedly proposed various ideas of handling the Syrian crisis, such as introducing no-fly zones or security zones, which were nothing but “attempts to cover up possible Turkish aggression.”

According to Lavrov, it is “very disturbing that the EU… doesn’t suppress such ambitions by Ankara and even tries to indulge it in a certain way.”