U.S., Russia agree to new peace plan for Syria; Kerry says could be ‘turning point’

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet at the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday prior to the start of a a bilateral meeting focused on a new peace plan for civil war-torn Syria. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State

GENEVA, Switzerland, Sept. 9 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart announced a new cease-fire agreement on Friday that both sides hope will clear the road to peace for a troubled nation that’s been torn apart by a five-year civil war.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met all day in Geneva working on the deal, which at one point seemed unlikely. Later Friday, both officials announced the pact during a news conference.

“Thank you all for tremendous patience during the course of a very long day,” Kerry said at the start of his remarks. “Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement toward a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria.”

The deal agreed to by Kerry and Lavrov calls for a cease-fire between the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime, as well as his Russian and Iranian allies. The fighting is being interrupted, Kerry said, to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid — particularly in the heavily contested city of Aleppo.

The leaders said that step will be followed by a larger cease-fire, closer to one that was agreed to in February but not effectively implemented. It lasted only a few weeks.

Members of both governments and the news media were skeptical that an agreement could be reached Friday, especially after Lavrov said during a break that he was about ready to “call it a day.”

As it turns out, Kerry and Lavrov were able to hammer out agreeable terms, which were then communicated to President Barack Obama.

“I believe it is important for them to check with Washington,” Lavrov said during the approval process. “I apologize for the delay. We cannot help it.”

Friday’s agreement is one step in what both sides hope will be a series of advancements toward the end of the Syrian civil war, which is now in its sixth year.

The agreed to cease-fire is scheduled to begin at sunset on Sept. 12. If it holds for a week, the U.S. and Russian militaries would then begin steps to combine operations to eliminate obstacles to peace — including Islamic State and al-Nusra terror targets.

The plan also calls for a demilitarized zone and uncontested access for humanitarian aid.

“If implemented, if followed, [the plan] has the ability to provide a turning point,” Kerry added. “The suffering we have witnessed in Syria over the course of five years now is really beyond inhumane.

“The United States is going the extra mile here because we believe that Russia, and [Lavrov], have the capability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and to come to the table and make peace.”


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