Officials from the United States and Russia said they made progress on Friday towards advancing proposals for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, but technical details still needed to be worked out, a senior official of the U.S. State Department said.
Kerry’s meeting with Lavrov is their third in two weeks and they have spoken several times by telephone to try to narrow differences on a Syrian peace plan that has been under discussion since July.
Under the plan being discussed by Kerry and Lavrov, a cessation of hostilities agreement would halt violence between rival forces and open humanitarian corridors.
Russia has insisted that opposition groups must separate from al Qaeda-linked militants in cities such as Aleppo. Washington wants Assad’s air force grounded to stop its attacks on opposition forces and civilians.
“Discussions continue into the early evening, as technical issues are worked out between the two teams,” the official said after a day of talks in Geneva between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“We are not in a position right now to say whether or not a final deal can be reached.”
The official said the two sides were “making progress … towards advancing proposals that would lead to a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria, as well as sustained and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance for communities most in need”.
Earlier on Friday, German FM Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin that the two sides have a real chance to agree on a ceasefire during these talks, adding that there is already an “existing document concerning the truce” that lasts many days. He also lifted the veil by saying that the differences between Russia and the US were reduced to just two or three issues.
The main goal of the ceasefire is reportedly to ensure that the humanitarian aid gets into the besieged areas of Syria, particularly to the city of Aleppo. The issue of separation of the moderate opposition forces from terrorist groups is reportedly still the major stumbling block in the ongoing negotiations, according to the RT correspondent on the scene.
US patience is not infinite
Kerry and Lavrov had at least 40 conversations ranging from phone calls to marathon talks this year alone. The longest negotiations they had in 2016 lasted 12 hours and took place in late August. Those talks allowed Russia and the US to reduce mutual levels of misunderstanding. At that time, the two countries also agreed to enhance their cooperation on Syria, particularly on the military level. The latest talks between Lavrov and Kerry continued for 11 hours.
Senior State Department officials briefing reporters on Kerry’s flight to Switzerland played down the prospect of a final breakthrough from Friday’s talks, although they said “steady progress” had been made in recent weeks.
They said they believed a deal was still possible but warned that the talks could not go on for ever.
Another senior U.S. official said en route to Geneva that while Kerry would try to make progress there, “patience is not infinite” and the United States would not simply keep talking if a conclusion was not reached “relatively soon”.
The officials declined to elaborate on what Washington might do if the talks broke down.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.