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Syria peace efforts plunge as US ends talks with Russia

By Associated Press in Washington (China Daily) Updated: 2016-10-05 07:47

The Russian Foreign Ministry expresses "deep disappointment" about the move

International efforts to end the fighting in Syria have been dealt a serious blow, with the United States suspending direct contacts with Russia on halting the war, and chilly relations turned even frostier after Russia put a hold on a plutonium disposal deal with Washington.

The two decisions, announced in their respective capitals just hours apart on Monday, were ostensibly unrelated but underscored deep mistrust and rising tensions between the former Cold War foes, who are increasingly at odds on a number of issues, particularly Syria and Ukraine.

The moves further reduce areas of Washington-Moscow cooperation, yet their most immediate impact may be the potential death blow delivered to halting attempts to revive a moribund cease-fire in Syria, get desperately needed humanitarian aid to besieged communities and begin negotiations on political transition that could mean the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

The Obama administration said it decided to cut off discussions on Syria because Russia had not lived up to the terms of last month's agreement to restore a tattered cease-fire and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities, such as Aleppo, which has been under bombardment from Russian and Syrian forces.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "What's clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to trying to reach an agreement that would reduce the violence inside of Syria and that's tragic."

'Deal with the devil'

"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."

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, expressing "deep disappointment" about the US move and blasting Washington for the failure to separate the rebels from al-Qaida's branch in Syria.

"Washington's decision reflects the inability of President Barack Obama's administration to fulfill the key condition for the continuation of our cooperation in overcoming the Syrian crisis," the statement said. "Or, perhaps, it never had an intention to do so. We are under a growing impression that in its striving for a much-desired change of power in Damascus Washington is ready to 'make a deal with the devil' and forge a union with terrorists who want to turn history backward and enforce their inhuman norms by force."

The ministry added that "the stakes are high," and warned that the "White House will bear the blame if Syria come under new blows by terrorists."

The US had agreed to separate the rebel groups but noted it was an extremely slow process. The US has relatively few personnel on the ground in Syria and even the moderate rebels have said they are frustrated with the pace of US help.

The suspension in Syria talks was announced just hours after the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree halting a joint program with the US on the disposal of weapons grade plutonium.

The decree cited the "emerging threat to strategic stability as a result of US unfriendly actions," as well as Washington's failure to meet its end of the cease-fire deal. It said, however, that Russia will keep the weapons-grade plutonium covered under the agreement away from weapons programs.

Under the agreement, Russia and the US each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads. It was signed in 2000.

 Syria peace efforts plunge as US ends talks with Russia

People carry a wounded woman on a stretcher inside the Al Rahma Hospital on Monday in the city of Qamishli. A suicide bomber killed at least 14 people in an attack targeting a wedding party of a member of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Delil Souleiman / AFP

(China Daily 10/05/2016 page4)

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