U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other key partners in Switzerland Saturday in yet another effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria. The State Department says the talks in Lausanne are part of a multilateral approach after the U.S. called off direct talks with Moscow on a cease-fire and humanitarian relief.
Kerry also will discuss Syria in a meeting with regional and international partners on Sunday in London. The State Department was not ruling out the potential of a Kerry-Lavrov “conversation” on the sidelines but said that does not mean the suspension of bilateral U.S.-Russia engagement “is lifted.”
The West is accusing Russia and its Syrian allies of war crimes for bombing hospitals and United Nations relief convoys in and around Aleppo as they target Syrian rebels looking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
Loss of credibility
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday the U.S. is no longer trying to reach an agreement with Russia but is instead trying to use a "variety of diplomatic channels" to reduce the violence inside Syria.
"And that's necessarily going to include some Russian participation. But it is no longer in the context of trying to broker this agreement that would... hold out the prospect of U.S. military cooperation with Russia. That's something that Russia has lost, frankly, lost the credibility to be able to try to agree to," Earnest said.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in the city of Aleppo, which has seemingly become ground zero in Syria. Rebels control the east while the Syrian military besieges the rest of the city. While targeting the opposition with bombs, Syrian and Russian forces have been hitting civilians. Pictures of bleeding children, some in so much shock that they cannot even cry, have sickened the world.
Russia denies attacking civilians. It says its only target are "terrorists," the word Russia and Syria use when talking about the opposition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told France's TF1 television Wednesday that allegations of Russian and Syrian war crimes in Aleppo are "political rhetoric" and that the West does not consider what is really happening on the ground. "We cannot allow terrorists to take advantage of civilians and use them as human shields. We cannot allow them to blackmail the entire world by taking hostages, killing prisoners by cutting their throats," Putin said.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak said Tuesday that bilateral relations between the two powers were “moving in the wrong direction.” Kislyak blamed the U.S. for unilaterally “freezing” normal channels with Russia and defended Russia’s bombings in Aleppo as being “on a fully legal basis” and by the invitation of the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis Wednesday called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria. Speaking at his weekly general audience, the pope said a halt in fighting should be put in place long enough for civilians, particularly children, to escape the bombs. Previous international efforts to establish a cease-fire have quickly eroded in the five years since the civil war erupted in Syria. Just last week, Russia blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution proposed by France and Spain to end the Aleppo bombing. Nike Ching contributed to this report from the State Department.