- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2014

Secretary of State John F. Kerry struck a note of optimism on Syria Monday, claiming that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are discussing a partial ceasefire ahead of a major peace conference set for next week in Geneva.

Big questions remain about how willing opposition rebels fighting for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad will be to honor such a ceasefire — or to even participate fully in the upcoming peace conference. 

But Mr. Kerry, who met with his Russian counterpart in Paris on Monday, suggested that pushing for a “localized ceasefire” might help set a positive tone for wider negotiations toward an end to the nearly 3-year-old civil war in Syria.

The secretary of state said he and Mr. Lavrov talked about “the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire — maybe a localized ceasefire, beginning with Aleppo,” Syria’s largest city, according to a report Monday by Reuters.

A history of previously failed attempts by outside powers to end Syria’s war suggest that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov may be face long odds this time.

While the Washington and Moscow are working together at removing chemical weapons from the possession of military forces loyal to Mr. Assad, the two powers have struggled to agree on much else related to Syria over the past three years.

The U.S. has provided support to Syrian rebel forces, while Russia is widely seen as Mr. Assad’s top international backer along with Iran, providing military hardware to Damascus despite pleas from Washington to stop.

At a minimum, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Kerry’s optimism can affect the situation on the ground in Syria, where more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by the war.

Powerful al Qaeda-linked extremists among Syria’s opposition — some of whom are fighting both the Assad government and other, more secular rebel groups in the nation — may be unlikely to support even a partial ceasefire.

But diplomats are still trying to persuade the combatants to agree to a series of steps to improve the atmosphere for the so-called “Geneva II” peace talks talks planned for Switzerland on January 22, Reuters reported.


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