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US Suspends Contacts with Russia on Syria; UN Urges Truce

US Suspends Contacts with Russia on Syria; UN Urges Truce

 Men run with babies in Aleppo on Sept. 11, 2016. (Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 03 October 2016 03:39 PM

In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.

The U.S. move followed a threat last week from Secretary of State John Kerry after new Russian and Syrian attacks on the city of Aleppo. The State Department said Russia had not lived up to the terms of an agreement last month to restore the cease-fire and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities.

"This is not a decision that was taken lightly," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments ... and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed."

"Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities, as demonstrated by their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need, including through the September 19 attack on a humanitarian aid convoy," he said.

An airstrike last month hit a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy, killing 20 people. The United States has accused Russia of hitting the convoy, but both Russia and Syria deny it.

Monday's announcement came just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended a Russia-U.S. deal on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, in a move that also underscored rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Putin's decree cited Washington's "unfriendly actions" and the United States' inability to fulfill its obligations under the 2000 deal as reasons for the move. Under the agreement, which was expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the U.S. each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said patience had run out with Russia.

"What is clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to stopping the ongoing violence in Syria and that is unfortunate," he told reporters.

He said the U.S. would withdraw personnel that it had dispatched to take part in the creation of a joint U.S.-Russia center that was to have coordinated military cooperation and intelligence had the cease-fire taken hold. The suspension will not affect communications between the two countries aimed at de-conflicting counter-terrorism operations in Syria.

Last week, amid the deteriorating conditions, Kerry threatened to suspend contacts with Russia unless "immediate" action was taken to ease the situation. Despite no improvements, however, he did not order the suspension until Monday.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council will begin negotiations on Monday on a draft resolution that urges Russia and the United States to ensure an immediate truce in Syria's Aleppo and to "put an end to all military flights over the city."

 

The draft text, seen by Reuters, also asks U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to propose options for a U.N.-supervised monitoring of a truce and threatens to "take further measures" in the event of non-compliance by "any party to the Syrian domestic conflict."

The 15-member council began talks on the text - drafted by France and Spain - on Monday afternoon, diplomats said.

The draft resolution urges Russia and the United States "to ensure the immediate implementation of the cessation of hostilities, starting with Aleppo, and, to that effect, to put an end to all military flights over the city."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Monday that the draft text "raises many questions" for Moscow and was a politicized move to exert additional pressure on Russia and Syria, TASS news agency reported.

"It is very one-sided, it contains elements which don't relate to the humanitarian issue at all," Gatilov said. "We will present our amendments to this text. So we will see to what extent they will be taken into account by our partners in the Security Council."

Russia and China have previously protected the Syrian government from council action by blocking several resolutions, including a bid to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said that any state that opposes the resolution would be deemed complicit in war crimes. He told TV5 Monde television on Monday that he hoped to obtain results on the draft resolution this week.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have been battling for control of eastern Aleppo. Capturing the rebel-held half of Syria's largest city, where more than 250,000 civilians are trapped, would be the biggest victory of the five-year civil war for Assad's forces.

The draft text expresses "outrage at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence and at the intensified campaigns, in recent days, of aerial bombings in Aleppo" and demands "the Syrian government end all aerial bombardments, in order to facilitate safe and unhindered humanitarian access."

East Aleppo came under siege in July after its main supply route fell under government control. International attempts to establish a truce to allow in U.N. humanitarian aid have failed, although other groups have brought in limited supplies.

The relentless Russian and Syrian air campaign has badly damaged hospitals and water supplies.

British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he hoped the draft resolution could be adopting in the coming days but acknowledged that "even that is not going to not end the war. What will end the war is not another piece of paper."

"It's a change of mindset, it's a change of heart, and it's a decision, actually, to fulfill every single existing obligation, and if everyone around the Security Council table did that then the war in Syria would be over very rapidly," he told reporters.

A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 sparked a civil war and Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. Half of Syria's 22 million people have been uprooted and more than 400,000 killed.

Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.The U.S. move followed a threat last week from Secretary of State John...
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Monday, 03 October 2016 03:39 PM
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