The United States and Russia hailed a breakthrough deal on Saturday to put Syria’s peace process back on track, including a nationwide ceasefire effective from sundown on Monday.
“Today, Sergei Lavrov and I, on behalf of our president and our countries call on every Syrian stakeholder to support the plan that the United States and Russia have reached, to … bring this catastrophic conflict to the quickest possible end through a political process,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that despite continuing mistrust, the two sides had developed five documents that would enable coordination of the fight against armed groups and a revival of Syria’s failed truce in an enhanced form.
“This all creates the necessary conditions for resumption of the political process which has been stalling for a long time,” Lavrov told a news conference.
The two powers back opposite sides of the conflict, with Moscow supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the US behind a coalition of rebel groups.
If Russia is able to pressure Assad to respect the ceasefire for a week, Moscow and Washington will set up a joint coordination unit and begin air strikes against agreed targets.
“We will jointly agree on strikes against terrorists to be carried out by the Russian and American air forces. We have agreed on the zones in which these strikes will be carried out,” said Lavrov.
The much anticipated – if tentative – breakthrough came at the end of marathon talks between Lavrov and Kerry in Geneva, as the pair push for an end of the five-year civil war.
“Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria,” Kerry said.
The vexed question of Assad’s fate remains, with Western powers calling for his removal and Russia backing him.
But both Kerry and Lavrov said the complex plan represents the best available chance to end the fighting between the government and the mainstream opposition rebels, while still targeting Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the group formerly known as the Al Nusra Front) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.