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U.S. Welcomes Moscow Agreement On Syria, But Remains Skeptical

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center), his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu (right), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speak to the press in Moscow on December 20.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center), his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu (right), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speak to the press in Moscow on December 20.

The United States has welcomed an agreement by Russia, Iran, and Turkey to work toward drafting a peace deal in Syria but expressed some skepticism that it would come to pass.

"The United States welcomes any effort to try to get a cease-fire in Syria that can actually have meaningful results, particularly for those people that remain in Aleppo, as well as the resumption of political talks," State Department spokesman John Kirby said after Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with his Russian and Turkish counterparts about the agreement on December 20.

The foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey said after meeting in Moscow that they would seek to widen the cease-fire in Syria and increase access to humanitarian aid and eventually would act as "guarantors" of any future peace deal.

Russia and Iran have backed the Syrian regime in the six-year civil war, while Turkey has backed rebel forces.

Kirby said that Kerry would like to get "political talks back on track as soon as possible," but believes it is "too soon to know" if the Moscow declaration will have any impact.

He said Kerry was skeptical of success, given his own experience with seeing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad torpedo past attempts to impose a cease-fire and political settlement in the country.

"Given that the meeting just broke up today and given the fact that we have seen repeated promises to appropriately influence the Assad, I think we really need to wait and ascertain the results over the coming days," Kirby said.

While the Moscow meeting did not include the United States, which has been a top player in past peace negotiations, U.S. officials sought to downplay any notion that Washington was being sidelined.

"We are not excluded, we are not being sidelined," Kirby said. "We would obviously refute any notion that...the fact that we weren't at this one meeting is somehow a harbinger or a litmus test for U.S. influence and leadership there or anywhere else around the world."

One of the tenets agreed to at the Moscow meeting, however, was anathema to the United States: to give priority in Syria to the fight against terrorism and not the removal of Assad, whom the United States and its allies have accused of war crimes.

Because of his brutal tactics, the United States and its allies in previous peace negotiations have insisted that Assad must step down as part of any political settlement. Russia, Iran, and Syria have rejected that precondition.

The deep divide over the fate of Assad has led several times to an impasse in the UN peace talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the Moscow meeting that he hopes the "troika" talks will overcome the "stagnation" of the UN talks.

"The format you see today is the most efficient one," Lavrov said. "It's not an attempt to cast a shadow on the efforts taken by our other partners, it's just stating the facts."

He cited the recent evacuation of civilians and rebels from Aleppo, brokered by Moscow and Ankara, as proof of the efficiency of working with parties that are directly involved in the war and not merely bystanders.

"More than any others, our states are ready to help the settlement with real deeds and not just words," he said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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