In Multipolarity, Sept 9, 2016 (including interview with Ammar Waqqaf of the British Syrian Society)

Fight Al-Nusra, no strikes on ‘moderate rebels’, Aleppo relief

Introduction by New Cold Following marathon talks lasting a reported 13 hours in Geneva Switzerland, the first steps of a new ceasefire effort in Syria were agreed by the U.S. and Russia on September 9. Enclosed is a report on Below that are several reports from Western media showing a typical presentation of the United States as the heroes of the ceasefire deal, as though the U.S. regime-change agenda in Syria during the past five years has not existed and has not been at the root of much of the violence in Syria.

Announcement of the agreement was delayed for several hours by the U.S. delegation, presumably because it was obtaining a final approval from the Obama administration in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hold a press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hold a press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Russia and the U.S. have agreed on a new ceasefire plan on Syria that includes a ban on government airstrikes in certain areas and cooperation on strikes against jihadists, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced on September 9 after the marathon talks with the U.S.’s John Kerry.

Opening the much-awaited press conference after some 13 hours of talks, Kerry said that the two have agreed on a comprehensive approach to Syrian reconciliation. He called “on every Syrian stakeholder to support the plan that the United States and Russia have reached, to … bring this catastrophic conflict to the quickest possible end through a political process.”

According to Kerry, the plan is to ensure that Syrian government forces will not carry out combat missions where the so-called moderate opposition is present.

Speaking of fight against Al-Nusra and its efforts to blend with moderate rebels, Kerry stressed “going on Al-Nusra is not a concession to anybody” but “is profoundly in the interests of the U.S.”

Kerry also outlined an establishment of the Russian-U.S. Joint Implementation Centre (JIG) that would serve the purpose of “delineation of territories controlled by Al-Nusra and opposition groups in the area of active hostilities.”

Taking the floor, the Russian FM confirmed that Russia and U.S. had agreed to coordinate airstrikes in Syria, “provided there is a sustained period of reduced violence.” The first step toward the implementation of this clause will be a 48-hour ceasefire in Syria, Lavrov said.

Lavrov elaborated that the ceasefire comes into effect on September 12 and should last for at least seven days. “After the ceasefire regime will be in effect for seven days, we will establish an implementation centre, in which the military and the representatives of Russian and U.S. intelligence will handle practical issues, separating terrorists and opposition,” he added.

The Russian FM said that the diplomats have negotiated on five separate documents at the talks. “Despite the mistrust and attempt to disrupt what we have agreed upon, we managed to work out a package of documents, there are five of them. It allows us to set an effective coordination in the fight against terrorism, to expand the humanitarian access to distressed population, first and foremost in Aleppo,” Lavrov said.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information contained in the agreements, they will not be made available to general public, Lavrov said. “We cannot make these documents public. They contain rather serious, sensitive information. We don’t want it to fall into hands of those who would surely try to disrupt the implementation of the measures stipulated within in the framework of humanitarian delivery supplies and in other parts of our agreements.”

According to the agreement, both Syrian government and opposition forces will “be required to provide safe, unhindered and sustainable humanitarian, commercial and civilian access to eastern and western Aleppo,” Kerry said.

Rebels are actively preventing the safe passage of humanitarian aid to civilians in Aleppo, Lavrov said, adding that opposition groups stationed there are threatening to attack Russian humanitarian convoys. “The convoy was ready to go on August 26. But the opposition said that any convoy going down the Castello highway will be shelled,” he said.

On Friday, seven people, mostly women and children, were killed and at least 24 injured in a terrorist attack on northern Aleppo after militants fired a missile in the area, according to Syria’s state SANA news agency.

Lavrov emphasized the importance of all opposition groups being included in the negotiations for the reconciliation process to succeed. “It is the demand of the UN Security Council. Resolution 2254 proclaims that the negotiations should be inclusive, with participation of all Syrian parties, including the groups that have been formed in Moscow, Cairo, El-Riyadh and other places,” he said.

The minister added that there were provocations by some unspecified countries that aimed to portray one of the groups as the only legitimate representative of Syrian opposition at the talks.

‘U.S. ditches Al-Nusra to preserve less extremist rebels’

Meanwhile, political analyst Ammar Waqqaf has cast doubt on the sincerity of Kerry’s assertion that “going on Al-Nusra” was never a negotiating point. The “United States has made a big decision in ditching Jabhat Al-Nusra to preserve the other fighting groups, the other what they call the moderate fighting groups,” the analyst told RT, calling it the “cornerstone” of the deal.

Waqqaf is sure that Washington’s move was prompted by the rapid advance of Syrian armed forces on rebel positions, which would have imminently led to the “severe deterioration” of the so-called moderate forces and hardline terrorist groups, including Al-Nusra, alike.

The decision to turn away from the most radical groups was made “to try and tie the Syrian state hand and Russian hand, in order to preserve the other groups who are less extremist but still extremist but they would call them moderate know,” to preserve less extremist rebels.

The recent Al-Nusra rebranding when the militant group formally severed all ties with Al-Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham could have resulted in its inclusion into the moderate opposition if Washington had not strived to find a compromise with Russia, Waqqaf said.

For its part, the Saudi-backed High Negotiating Committee (HNC) issued a statement welcoming the split and encouraging the former Al-Nusra group to commit to further reforms. “Saudi Arabia saw an opportunity to bring Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is a formidable fighting force under their umbrella, and tried to tell the Americans: Look, we can turn this into real moderates and you do not have to bomb them.”

However, “Americans knew that there would be no deal with Russia unless Jabhat Al-Nusra is called Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda) and that they are separated.”

No transition process in Syria with President al-Assad: Turkish and Saudi Arabia foreign ministers, Hurriyet Daily News, Sept 8, 2016

U.S., Turkey annexation of Syria aimed at pressing Russia on regime change, commentary by Finian Cunningham,, Sept 9, 2016

Latest ceasefire agreement in tatters, broken by Ukraine, New Cold, Sept 9, 2016

U.S., Russia clinch Syria deal, aim for truce from Monday

By David Brunnstrom and Tom Miles, Reuters, Sept 10,2016

GENEVA–The United States and Russia hailed a breakthrough deal on Saturday to put Syria’s peace process back on track, including a nationwide truce effective from sundown on Monday, September 12, improved humanitarian aid access and joint military targeting of banned Islamist groups.

“Today, Sergei Lavrov and I, on behalf of our presidents and our countries, call on every Syrian stakeholder to support the plan that the United States and Russia have reached, to … bring this catastrophic conflict to the quickest possible end through a political process,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference after marathon talks in the Swiss city.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that despite continuing mistrust, the two sides had developed five documents that would revive a failed truce agreed in February and enable military coordination between the U.S. and Russia against militant groups in Syria. Both sides agreed not to release the documents publicly.

“This all creates the necessary conditions for resumption of the political process, which has been stalling for a long time,” Lavrov told a news conference.

The deal followed talks that stretched late into Friday night and several failed attempts to hammer out a deal over the past two weeks. The announcement on Friday was delayed as Kerry and U.S. negotiators consulted with officials in Washington.

“The Obama administration, the United States, is going the extra mile here because we believe that Russia, and my colleague (Lavrov), have the ability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and to come to the table and make peace,” he said.

Previous efforts to forge agreements to stop the fighting and deliver humanitarian aid to besieged communities in Syria have crumbled within weeks, with the United States accusing Assad’s forces of attacking opposition groups and civilians.

Kerry said the “bedrock” of the new deal was an agreement that the Syrian government would not fly combat missions in an agreed area on the pretext of hunting fighters from the banned Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. “That should put an end to the barrel bombs, and an end to the indiscriminate bombing, and it has the potential to change the nature of the conflict.”

Under the agreement, Russian-backed government forces and opposition groups, supported by the United States and Gulf States, would halt fighting for a while as a confidence building measure. During this time, opposition fighters will have the chance to separate from militant groups in areas, such as Aleppo, where they have become intermingled.

If the truce holds from Monday, Russia and the United States will begin seven days of preparatory work to set up a “joint implementation center”, where they will share information to delineate territory controlled by Nusra and opposition groups.

Both warring sides would pull back from the strategic Castello Road in Aleppo to create a demilitarized zone, while opposition and government groups would both have to provide safe and unhindered access via Ramouseh in the south of the city.

“We must go after these terrorists,” Kerry said. “Not indiscriminately, but in a strategic, precise and judicious manner so they cannot continue to use the regime’s indiscriminate bombing to rally people to their hateful crimes.”

All sides in the conflict would need to adhere to the nationwide truce, Kerry added, cautioning opposition fighters that if they did not separate from Nusra they would not be spared from air attacks.

“This requires halting all attacks, including aerial bombardments, and any attempts to gain additional territory at the expense of the parties to the cessation. It requires unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all of the besieged and hard-to-reach areas including Aleppo.”

Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials have spoken out against the idea of closer military cooperation with Russia, in particular the sharing of locations of opposition groups that have fought to topple Assad. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who only days ago delivered a forceful speech in England criticizing Russia, has long been skeptical of Moscow’s intentions in Syria.

The Pentagon said in a statement it would carefully monitor the “preliminary understanding” agreed on Friday and cautioned the Assad regime and its backer, Russia, to stick to deal requirements. “Those commitments must be fully met before any potential military cooperation can occur,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. “We will be watching closely the implementation of this understanding in the days ahead.”

The United States and Russia have backed opposite sides in Syria’s civil war, with few signs of an end in sight to more than five years of conflict, which killed more than 400,000 people and drove tens of thousands of refugees into Europe.

The United Nations said on Friday the Syrian government had effectively stopped aid convoys this month and the besieged city of Aleppo was close to running out of fuel, making the talks even more urgent.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement that it had provided “clear rules” for a cessation of hostilities and would allow warring sides to resume political talks on a transition.

A look at details of U.S.-Russia deal on Syria

Associated Press, Sept 10, 2016

GENEVA (AP) — A look at some of the key points in an “arrangement” announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, aimed at halting fighting in Syria and moving toward a political transition after 5-1/2 years of combat between President Bashar Assad’s forces and opposition rebels:

What the arrangement says

A nationwide cease-fire by Assad’s forces and the U.S.-backed opposition is set to begin across Syria at sundown Monday. That sets off a seven-day period that will allow for humanitarian aid and civilian traffic into Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial capital, which has faced a recent onslaught.

Fighting forces are to also pull back from the Castello Road, a key thoroughfare and access route into Aleppo, and create a “demilitarized zone” around it.

Also Monday, the United States and Russia will begin preparations for the creation of a Joint Implementation Center that will involve information sharing needed to define areas controlled by the radical Nusra Front and opposition groups in areas “of active hostilities.”

The center is expected to be established a week later, and is to launch a broader effort toward delineating other territories in control of various groups.

As part of the arrangement, Russia is expected to keep Syrian air force planes from bombing areas controlled by the opposition. The United States has committed to help weaken the Nusra Front, an extremist group that has intermingled with the U.S.-backed opposition in places.

A resumption of political dialogue between the government and opposition under U.N. mediation, which was halted amid an upsurge in fighting in April, will be sought over the longer term.

The stakes

Syria’s civil war has killed as many as 500,000 people and sent millions fleeing their homes within Syria and into exile.

Kerry said this “new equation” offers an opportunity to find a peaceful solution and reverse the current trend of “creating more terrorists” and more destruction.

Who’s on board

Kerry said the U.S.-supported opposition and other fighters will be called upon to set themselves apart from the radical Islamic State group and the Nusra Front.

Lavrov said through a translator, “The Syrian government has been informed of these arrangements and is ready to fulfill them.”

How the arrangement came together

The Geneva negotiating session lasted more than 13 hours and capped a flurry of meetings between the two diplomats in recent days. Kerry and Lavrov met four times since a previous Geneva meeting on Aug. 26, and Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin discussed the matter at a summit in China.

What makes this deal different

The United States and Russia, ultimately, are to find themselves fighting together against the Islamic State and Nusra, and embarking on unprecedented information-sharing — aimed at dispelling longstanding mistrust between the two powers over the Syria conflict.

Kerry acknowledged “confusion” between Nusra and “legitimate opposition groups” that had led to a “fraying” of a cease-fire that was shepherded earlier this year by the U.S. and Russia and brought a badly-needed, if temporary, respite to Syrian civilians for several weeks.


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