The Washington Post

Kerry says Russia and Iran undermining Syria peace talks

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Jakarta on Feb. 16, 2014. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

— Secretary of State John F. Kerry accused Russia and Iran on Monday of effectively undermining Syrian peace talks by stepping up military support and aid to the government in Damascus and allowing President Bashar al-Assad to stonewall while he tries to “double down” on a military victory.

Last week’s meetings in Geneva made no progress toward ending the Syrian civil war, and Kerry put the blame entirely on the government’s side.

The opposition offered a viable road map to advance the negotiations and create a transitional government, moving along a path agreed to by all sides in previous talks, Kerry said, speaking in the Indonesian capital on a trip to Asia and the Middle East.

“But the regime stonewalled,” Kerry said. “They did nothing, except continue to double down on arms against their own people.”

Assad’s negotiating team “refused to open up one moment of discussion” during the talks on the issue of a transitional government, Kerry said. “It is very clear that Bashar al-Assad is continuing to try to win this on the battlefield rather than to come to the negotiating table with good faith.”

Russia rejected the charges .

At a news conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described “evidence that certain sponsors of the opposition are starting to create a new structure” that would include foes of Assad who were outside the main opposition group, according to the Reuters news agency.

“A course is being set to move away from the negotiations track and once again place bets on a military scenario,” Lavrov said.

He said Russia had fulfilled its obligations by getting Assad’s government to attend the talks.

“When we hear that Russia must take some steps, it’s necessary to remember one simple truth: We have done everything we promised,” Lavrov said, according to Reuters.

In a statement released Sunday night in Jakarta, Kerry also condemned the Assad government for continuing its “barbaric assault” on the civilian population of Syria with barrel bombs and starvation, and for adding some of the opposition delegates at Geneva to a terrorist list and seizing their assets. “This is reprehensible,” he said.

Although Russia publicly supports the idea of a transitional government, Kerry said he regretted that increased support for Assad from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia had encouraged his intransigence.

“Russia needs to be a part of the solution, not contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are really enabling Assad to double down,” Kerry said.

Simon Denyer is The Post’s bureau chief in China. He served previously as bureau chief in India and as a Reuters bureau chief in Washington, India and Pakistan.
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