U.S. and Russia say Syria aid access and local ceasefire possible
PARIS: Syria's government and some rebels may be willing to permit humanitarian aid to flow, enforce local ceasefires and take other confidence-building measures in the nearly three-year-old civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
Kerry said that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire. Maybe a localized ceasefire, beginning with Aleppo," Syria's largest city. "And both of us have agreed to try to work to see if that could be achieved."
Syrian rebels backed by Washington have agreed that, if the government commits to such a partial ceasefire, "they would live up to it", Kerry said.
Given the history of failed attempts to end the war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions, it remains far from clear that even a partial ceasefire can be achieved or, if it is, can hold.
It also seems unlikely to be honored by powerful militant islamist rebel factions, some of whom are at war with both Damascus and other rebel groups backed by the West and Gulf states.
But diplomats are trying to persuade the combatants to agree to a series of steps to improve the atmosphere for Syrian peace talks planned for Switzerland on January 22.
Kerry spoke at a press conference in Paris with Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. Secretary General's top Syria envoy.
Lavrov, whose government backs Assad, said the Syrian government had indicated it might provide access for humanitarian aid to reach besieged areas. He specifically cited the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, where 160,000 people have been largely trapped by fighting, according to the United Nations.
"We await similar steps by the opposition," Lavrov said.
Kerry expressed some skepticism that Assad's government would follow through.
"The proof will be in the pudding, as we say," he said. "This news of a possibility is welcome."
Kerry said he and Lavrov had also discussed a possible exchange of prisoners between the sides.
The opposition is ready to put together a list of prisoners and "are prepared to entertain such an exchange", he said.