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A U.S. Super Hornet takes o from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Gulf. U.S. and Russia have agreed to cease hostilities in southwestern Syria. File photo
State Dept. says U.S. & Russia have shared interests in Syria, but challenges stay
On Sunday noon Damascus time, a geographically limited ceasefire agreement will kick in in Syria, and the U.S. hopes that this could be the modest beginning of an extensive cessation of conflict across the country, a senior State Department official, who was part of the negotiations, told reporters on Friday. The agreement reached by the U.S, Russia and Jordan seeks to enforce a ceasefire and deliver humanitarian assistance in southwest Syria.
But the official warned against unqualified optimism. “..there have been ceasefires in the past. At the end of the day, this is Syria. It’s a very complicated battle space and there are a lot of spoilers on the ground, and we’re effectively dependent upon outside parties with influence to ensure the compliance of those with whom they have influence.”
He added: “In the case of the Russians, obviously, that’s principally the regime forces; in the case of the U.S., Jordan, it’s the forces of the opposition. But again, there are spoilers on the ground. There is the regime, which we hope under Russian pressure will comply. There are jihadis from al-Qaida and from Daesh (Islamic State) even in southwest Syria, although smaller in number, that may well have a vested interested in spoiling the ceasefire.”
What he left unmentioned was the bitter internal wrangling within U.S. agencies, which possibly contributed to repeated collapse of ceasefire arrangements in Syria, last year, under the Barack Obama administration. The State Department and the Pentagon were not on the same page while then Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated a ceasefire agreement and a framework for coordinated efforts by Russia and the U.S. to target IS forces in September 2016.
President Barack Obama approved Mr. Kerry’s efforts, overruling the then Defence Secretary Ash Carter’s objections. The plan fell apart almost immediately after it was announced as a U.S.-led air campaign bombed a convoy of Syrian soldiers, killing 60, which the U.S. air force claimed was an accidental strike. Soon after an international aid convoy to Aleppo, which was allowed in as part of the agreement, was bombed, for which the U.S. blamed Russia. Towards the end of the Obama administration, the State Department admitted that U.S. agencies did not share the same view on Syria and cooperation with Russia on its resolution.
The entire issue is back on the table again, and the State Department official said the agreement was reached in Amman on Friday, after weeks of negations, and hours ahead of the first meeting between U.