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US, Russian envoys offer to help revive Syrian talks

Efforts do little to advance the peace process

Residents of Aleppo, Syria, surveyed the damage after an airstrike by government forces. The government’s bombing of the city has killed an estimated 421 people in the last 12 days.

Baraa al-Halabi/Getty Images

Residents of Aleppo, Syria, surveyed the damage after an airstrike by government forces. The government’s bombing of the city has killed an estimated 421 people in the last 12 days.

GENEVA — Russia and the United States pledged their help in reviving stalled Syrian peace negotiations, United Nations’ mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reported Thursday, but their deliberations did nothing to dispel uncertainty about how the process will proceed or produce any initiative to ease the plight of war-weary Syrians.

Brahimi’s consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov of Russia and Undersecretary of State for political affairs Wendy Sherman came as intense fighting in Syria caused a spike in casualties and a new flood of refugees.

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And while the two powers that set the peace process in motion have a common purpose in moving it forward, Russia and the United States have squared off in the UN Security Council over a resolution intended to open access for relief agencies to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians worn down by three years of conflict.

Brahimi was due to meet the Syrian factions again Friday, but as the second round of talks ground toward a close the only progress he could report was that the warring parties were a little more used to the presence of the other side.

“Failure is always staring at us in the face,” he observed.

One estimate says that nearly 5,000 people have died in three weeks since the peace talks began in Geneva.

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The immediate sticking point in Geneva is the Syrian government delegates’ insistence that talks must focus on terrorism and the opposition’s determination to discuss the formation of a transitional governing body. The government has often used the term to describe all armed resistance to its rule, so the opposition is loath to frame the discussion as a fight against terrorism. It wants instead to talk about political transition, a proposition dismissed by the government’s spokesmen this week as “a recipe for disaster.”

Gatilov, after meeting the government delegation on Wednesday, said both issues were important, Syria’s state news agency, SANA, reported. But the extent of Russia’s leverage with President Bashar Assad’s government and how much political capital it is ready to expend in using it remains a matter of conjecture.

Sherman was due to meet opposition representatives later Thursday but hopes that the three diplomats would be able to hold a joint session with both of the warring parties in a bid to inject some momentum into the process looked unlikely.

The divergence on terrorism, meanwhile, has spilled over to the Security Council, where Russia has rejected a US-backed resolution threatening sanctions against anyone obstructing humanitarian aid deliveries and has submitted its own draft resolution combining the issue of humanitarian aid with calls to condemn terrorism.

“Terrorism is certainly no less acute a problem” than the need for access to blockaded areas in Syria, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, said, adding that Russia’s draft laid out “our vision of the role the Security Council can play if we want to foster a solution to the problems and not antagonize one side or the other.”

Meanwhile, fighting intensified in Syria. Nearly 5,000 people have died in three weeks since the meetings began in Geneva, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment group based in Britain that tracks the conflict through networks on the ground.

The government’s bombing of Aleppo alone had killed 421 people in the last 12 days, it said, including 109 children under the age of 18. The UN refugee agency said fighting in northern Syria had caused a surge in refugees crossing into Turkey and it was bracing for a similar influx in Lebanon following a burst of fighting in the Qalamoun area along the border on Thursday.

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