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10 Sep, 2016 13:10

EU officials & Turkey hail Lavrov-Kerry Syrian ceasefire breakthrough, Pentagon & UK cautious

EU leaders and Turkey have expressed hopes that a US-Russian peace deal for Syria will help stop the violence in the ravaged Middle-Eastern country, but America’s generals say they won’t cooperate until they see “implementation” from Damascus and Moscow.

Washington and Moscow hailed a deal reached overnight in marathon talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, calling it a breakthrough. The agreement seeks to revive the failed February ceasefire beginning on Monday in order to ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations suffering from violence. It also calls for the launch of military coordination between Russian and American forces operating in Syria.

Turkey, which ramped up its involvement in the Syrian conflict last month when it launched a ground operation against terrorist and Kurdish forces along its border, said it supported the deal and was preparing humanitarian relief for Aleppo. The city has been the focus of fighting between multiple sides of Syrian war over the past several months.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, welcomed the Syria truce and called on the UN to act on it.

“The agreement... is very welcome. All parties to the conflict, other than groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council, must now ensure its effective implementation,” she said.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, also welcomed the truce agreement, saying it provides “clear rules” for a cessation of hostilities.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for prompt implementation of the truce.

“I call on parties to the conflict in Syria and in the region to stick to the agreement reached by Washington and Moscow and stop fighting on Monday at the latest,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Statements supporting the US-Russian plan also came from officials of other European countries, such as France, Sweden, and Norway.

The Syrian government has been informed of and approved the US-Russian ceasefire deal for Syria, local SANA news agency said, citing unnamed Syrian officials.

An ambiguous expression of support came from the UK, however. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he welcomed the ceasefire, but lashed out at the government in Damascus, equating it with terrorist forces in terms of the violence it wrought, calling them the “twin scourges” of Syria.

“I call on all parties to the Syria conflict and all countries with influence upon them to do what is needed to end violence and lift sieges,” he said in a statement. “In particular, it’s vital that the regime in Damascus now delivers on its obligations, and I call on Russia to use all its influence to ensure this happens. They will be judged by their actions alone.”

Similarly veiled skepticism was expressed by the Pentagon, which said it would not begin the promised cooperation with Russia until Damascus observes the ceasefire in full.

“Those commitments must be fully met before any potential military cooperation can occur,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. “We will be watching closely the implementation of this understanding in the days ahead.”

Damascus is not the only party in Syria that may require pressuring to observe the truce, however. Several rebel groups have already said they don’t expect President Bashar Assad to observe the deal, so it remains unclear whether their foreign sponsors can make them refrain from hostilities.

Details of the Russia-US deal were not immediately released to the public. The February ceasefire collapsed partially because various armed groups in Syria have shifted allegiances and zones of control. The US has criticized Moscow and Damascus for targeting supposedly “moderate” rebel groups, which Russia says were legitimate targets because they have been involved in acts of terrorism and war crimes.

Moscow has also blamed the US for failing to provide a clear list of purportedly vetted rebel groups that it doesn’t consider to be terrorist and believes are genuinely interested in seeking a political transition in Syria.

Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish militias, which the US considers allies in fighting terrorist organizations, further complicates the situation.

The newly agreed US-Russian ceasefire deal on Syria could be a real breakthrough only if “there is a serious intention” to implement it in the US and in Turkey, Marva Osman, a political commentator, told RT.

At the same time, Osman threw the likelihood of the successful implementation of the peace deal into question, stressing that the US is unlikely “to bring the rebel factions together” as “most of them do not even trust the US anymore because at certain points when they seized certain areas… they were asked by the US to move back.”

“They were several times let down by the US, so how will they trust the US [now]?” she said.

Osman also added that the US tried to “to push for [Syrian militant group] Jabhat Ahrar al-Sham to be considered moderate rebels” but failed to do so because “Jabhat Ahrar al-Sham stood hand in hand with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) on some frontlines.”