US seeks momentum for new Syria peace push


LAUSANNE, Switzerland: US Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to build momentum behind a new drive to end the Syrian civil war Sunday after high-level talks with Russia and the country’s neighbors – Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.

Kerry was due to fly to London to brief Washington’s European allies after “brainstorming” talks in Lausanne with the main players in Syria’s bloody five-year-old conflict.

The meeting did not produce a concrete plan to restore the truce that collapsed last month amid bitter recriminations between Washington and Moscow and new fighting on the ground. However, Kerry insisted the new, leaner contact group had come up with some plausible ideas that would be fleshed out in the coming days and might lead to a new, stronger ceasefire.

“The way it wrapped up was to have several ideas that need to be quickly followed up,” he said. “The next contact on trying to follow up on this is going to be immediately, because this is urgent, and we’re not letting any grass grow under our feet.”

He also said it was too early to reveal what the ideas were, and that high-level contacts — but not a ministerial-level meeting — would continue on Monday to develop them.

He was expected, however, to raise the issues with Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and senior European colleagues, after flying to London later on Sunday.

Britain, France, Germany and Italy are members of the International Syria Support Group and have met before with other countries interested in resolving the Syrian crisis.

But US officials now say the full group is too unwieldy to make rapid decisions, and that Saturday’s Lausanne meeting was more productive for being focused on the main regional players.

The US envoy’s tone was upbeat, but diplomats from all sides warned against hopes of a rapid ceasefire.

Away from the talks, Moscow’s actions showed no sign that it might be softening its strong support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his campaign against US-backed rebels.

Fierce fighting was also continuing elsewhere in the multi-front conflict, with Turkish-backed fighters closing in on Dabiq, a symbolic stronghold of the Islamic State group.

In Aleppo, Assad’s Russian-backed government forces intensified their bombardment of the rebel-held east of the city, further damaging any prospect of a renewed ceasefire.



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