- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Negotiations between Washington and Moscow on potential cooperation in the air war against the Islamic State terror group in Syria have come to a screeching halt with little hope of resuming, according to the U.S. command in charge of American operations in the country.

American military officials broke off talks with their Russian counterparts after the collapse of a tenuous cease-fire deal brokered between the two world powers, according to command spokesman Col. John Thomas.

“We are not anticipating any great progress anytime soon,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.

Military representatives had agreed to a location for a proposed joint command center to coordinate American and Russian air operations in the country, and were slated to begin face-to-face talks on other aspects of the deal, Col. Thomas said.

But those talks were derailed Monday after a United Nations convoy carrying food and medial equipment into the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo was hit by an airstrike.



The strike officially brought to an end the peace pact brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov less than a week ago. Moscow and Damascus have each denied they carried out the attack on the convoy, which has been characterized as a war crime by human rights advocates.

Any joint operations between Russian and U.S. forces were wholly contingent on the cease-fire holding for several days. “There is no progress [on the negotiations]. It is stalled,” Col. Thomas said, adding “we will not move forward until the [U.S.] diplomats tell us to.”

Mr. Kerry declared the cease-fire deal was still viable on Tuesday, as his staff and Russian diplomats worked feverishly to salvage the pact.

“The cease-fire is not dead,” Mr. Kerry told reporters from the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. “We are going to continue to work. We are going to meet again Friday on some specific steps.”

But French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told The Associated Press on Tuesday that there is not much more Washington, Moscow or the international community can do to preserve the deal.

“Bombing is continuing. Aleppo is still threatened. The population is starving. And there is a humanitarian convoy that is attacked and there are dead,” Mr. Ayrault said. “This is the reality. One must denounce this realty.”

American military officials had expressed wariness over the deal itself outright distrust of their Russian counterpart’s ability to maintain the cease-fire long enough to begin in-depth planning for joint operations.

Specifically, some inside the Pentagon feared the planned joint command center could give Russian officials a close look at American operations and tactics, and that Moscow could use the bombing campaign to give a battlefield advantage to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Russian ally who President Obama insists must go.

“I’m not going to tell you I trust them. … They need to do the right thing, [and] we’ll see what happens from there,” U.S. Air Force Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian told reporters last Tuesday, regarding possible joint operations with Moscow.

Despite the failure of the cease-fire deal and subsequent U.S.-Russian operations, American commanders intend to keep in place a standing agreement between Washington and Moscow to inform each other about air operations in Syria or Iraq, which was the only link between the two militaries.

That pact was reached last October, after several near-misses between Russian fighters and U.S. aircraft in the skies over Syria.

Up until Monday’s airstrike on the aid convoy, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura hailed a “significant drop in violence” over the first 24 hours of the cease-fire.

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