By Lesley Wroughton and Alexander Winning
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Oct 16 – Syria talks convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday evening failed to agree on a common strategy with Russia to end the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year.
Kerry was seeking a new path to peace after failing to secure a ceasefire in direct talks with Moscow, one of Syria’s key backers, amid mounting international outrage over the Russian and Syrian bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – weeks after the collapse of a painstakingly crafted U.S.-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.
Kerry told reporters there was consensus on a number of options that could lead to a ceasefire, but conceded that there had been some tense moments during Saturday’s talks.
“I would characterize this as an example of what we wanted, which was a brainstorming and a very candid first-time discussion,” he said. “A number of ideas came from the number of different ministers as we hoped that might be able to shape some different approaches.”
But the meeting failed to come up with a joint statement or a shared vision on how to move forward.
Lavrov, who had said he had “no special expectations” for Saturday’s meeting, said ministers had discussed several “interesting ideas”, without elaborating.
MEETING IN LONDON
Europe was not represented at the meeting, held in a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva. But France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Kerry and foreign ministers of like-minded nations planned to meet in London on Sunday to discuss Syria.
Kerry said parties to the Lausanne talks would contact each other on Monday to follow up.
Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked on a number of ideas.
Although no breakthrough had been expected on Saturday, a senior U.S. official said before the meeting that the regional format to the talks could be the basis of a new process.
However, a former Western envoy in Syria told Reuters: “I don’t understand (why) the Americans are asking the Russians to talk again. They have made zero concessions. Do the Americans believe Moscow was shaken by the break-off last week and will change behaviour now?”
Separately, a Western diplomat in Lausanne said the meeting appeared ill-prepared and vague in its goals, and the list of invitees had been clarified only at the last moment.
Earlier, Kerry met separately with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir and with Lavrov to discuss the logistics of the meeting.
It was the first meeting between Kerry and Lavrov since the collapse of a second attempted ceasefire in September. The impending end of the Obama administration is likely to mean a hiatus in U.S. diplomacy while his successor, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, takes up the reins.
At the same time, pressure is rising for a halt to a ferocious, three-week-old Syrian government offensive to capture the eastern zone of the city of Aleppo, where the United Nations says 275,000 civilians still live and 8,000 rebels are holding out against Syrian, Russian and Iranian-backed forces.
Western powers have accused Russia and Syria of committing atrocities by bombing hospitals, killing civilians and preventing medical evacuations, as well as targeting an aid convoy with the loss of around 20 lives.
Syria and Russia counter that they are only targeting militants in Aleppo and accuse the United States of breaking the ceasefire by bombing scores of Syrian troops fighting Daesh insurgents, over which the United States has expressed regret.
A senior rebel commander said on Friday that Syrian government forces would never be able to capture Aleppo’s eastern sector, but a military source said the operation was going as planned.
The United Nations has said food, fuel and medicine are running out in eastern Aleppo and there will be no rations to distribute from the start of next month.