Putin Shuts the Door on US “Last Try” for Cooperation in Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry maintained on Aug 1 that Russia had failed to meet his deadline – and US expectations – for playing a more constructive role in Syria, and warned that he now sees Russia's actions in Syria as "very troubling”.
He said ongoing fighting in Syria has made it "impossible" to sit down and negotiate, and that the last several months have been filled with unsuccessful efforts to enforce the cease-fire in the face of Russia's ongoing military action there.
“It is critical, obviously, that Russia restrain both itself and the Bashar Assad regime from conducting offensive operations, just as it is our responsibility to get the opposition to refrain from engaging in those operations," Kerry said. ”We will see in the course of the next hours, few days, whether or not that dynamic can be changed. But it's very complicated when both parties on the ground want to fight rather than live up to the obligation of the UN Security Council resolution."
By voicing his disappointment, Kerry essentially admitted that many months, at least four, of negotiations between himself and the Russian foreign minister had not only got nowhere, but were deliberately stalled by Moscow. The Kremlin’s object in dragging them out was to lull Washington, while carrying forward its military and political designs in Syria.
DEBKA Weekly Moscow sources say that the Russians don’t deny this, but in talks behind the scenes they say they can’t understand what Obama and Kerry want. A Russian source said this week, “The Americans are not in Syria, and hardly operate in Syria from Turkish bases. Why do they want to force on us a policy we do not want and that counters our interests? It would be better for them to leave us to carry out our plans in Syria.”
Our sources say that the plan Kerry was working on with Lavrov was based on a solution of the Syrian crisis by “breaking it down” into stages.
The first stage involved fostering the coordination of air strikes – first against the re-branded Nusra Front, then ISIS – after “moderate” rebel positions were listed for immunity to distinguish them from “extremist” targets.
This arrangement would place limits on Russian air strikes.
The second stage proposed to divide Syria into three sectors: Area A, under the strict control of the Assad regime and his allies; Area B, open to all the combatant groups aside from ISIS, but including Assad’s forces; and Area C, which is under ISIS control.
The situation in Area A is stable and mostly free of fighting; in Area C, there is no bar on any group wishing to attack ISIS, although potentially liberated terrain is still up for grabs; Area B has problematic zones, especially the two broad spaces around the northern town of Aleppo, the district south of Damascus and a few small pockets around Homs.
The third stage was to have seen the establishment of a Joint Russian-US Implementation Group (JIG) information center to promote and synchronize their shared effort to defeat the Islamic State and Nusra, under the international mandate conferred by UN Security Council resolution 2254, which called for the reinforcement of the cessation of hostilities and a political transition in Damascus.
The JIG was designed to coordinate the fighting, starting with Nusra and its Islamist affiliates, and the sharing of intelligence and military updates. The pooling of military and operational data was to have enabled the two partners to decide together which would undertake a given military operation.
US and Russian intelligence were to set up a “target bank”, decide how to coordinate operations and establish a “deconfliction" mechanism, by which the US sought to halt – or at least cut down – attacks by Russian and Assad regime coalition forces on non-Islamist rebel groups, such as the US-backed Free Syrian Army.
All these steps would have put in place a template for the combined major war effort against ISIS.
The fourth stage would have been dedicated to determining the fate of Bashar Assad, after the Americans agreed it would be “deferred to later phases.”
When he met Lavrov in Moscow this week, Kerry warned him that he was engaged in the “current administration’s last American attempt.” If Russia failed to pressure Assad’s regime and Iran to implement the plan, Washington would withdraw completely from the Syrian crisis. Moscow would be left saddled with the reality of the Syrian battleground and the crisis it would be dropped unsolved in the lap of the next US president, whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

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