- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2016

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to force a breakthrough in negotiations over a cease-fire for Syria Monday, but agreed to keep looking for a path to provide humanitarian relief to thousands of besieged civilians in the civil war-ravaged country.

“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference in China. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps.”

After a 90-minute meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations summit in Hangzhou, China, the two leaders directed their top diplomats to return to talks quickly, likely later this week, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the meeting.

The U.S. has been trying unsuccessfully to broker a cease-fire with Russia in Syria that will hold. Mr. Obama said the renewed attacks around the city of Aleppo by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad is prompting the terrorist group al Nusra to recruit more fighters to its ranks.

“We’re back into a situation where Assad’s regime is bombing with impunity,” Mr. Obama said. “That is a very dangerous dynamic. The faster we can provide some [humanitarian] relief to folks on the ground, the better off we’re going to be.”

The official would not be named discussing the private discussion, which also covered U.S. concerns over cybersecurity and the situation in Ukraine.

The official said the U.S. was eager to find an agreement quickly, mindful of the deteriorating conditions around the besieged city of Aleppo, but was wary of enter a deal that would not be effective. The two leaders used the talk to clarify sticking points, the official said.

“It’s clear now what our respective positions are,” the official said. “We’ll see in coming days whether on Syria we can reach a near-term agreement. If we cannot get the type of agreement we want, we will walk away from that effort.”

The conversation came hours after U.S. and Russian negotiators acknowledged that a recent round of intense talk had come up short. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have been trying for weeks to broker a deal that would curb the violence between the Mr. Assad’s government forces and moderate rebels backed by the U.S.

The strategy has hinged on the two sides agreeing to closer militarily coordination against extremist groups operating in Syria. But Obama has expressed skepticism that Russia would hold to its agreement. In recent days, the State Department has said it is seeking a nationwide cease-fire between Mr. Assad’s military and the rebels, rather than another “cessation of hostilities” that is time-limited and only stops fighting in some cities and regions.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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