A complete cease-fire? Not exactly, according to Reuters. John Kerry announced a “unanimous” agreement for a cease-fire between the Syrian government and native opposition forces that the US has backed but Russia has targeted in its bombing campaigns. The fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra will continue:
The primary motivation for this decision is to address the humanitarian crisis — and maybe curtail the flight of refugees and the destabilization that has wrought:
The United States, Russia and other powers agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war, to take place within the next week, and immediate humanitarian access to besieged areas, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced here early Friday.
“It was unanimous,” Kerry said of a communique issued after hours of meetings among participants in a group of nations that have supported and armed one side or the other in the four-year war. “Everybody today agreed,” he said. But the proof of commitment will come only with implementation. “What we have here are words on paper,” Kerry said. “What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the projected date for ending at least some of his country’s airstrikes in Syria is a week from Friday, but he emphasized that “terrorist” groups would continue to be targeted, including the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that is involved in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad. The group in some instances fights alongside rebel forces supported by the United States and its allies.
Bashar al-Assad insists that he will not stop fighting “terrorism,” and that “the two tracks are separate from each other”:
It all depends on how one defines terrorism. Until now, Assad and his Russian counterparts have made no distinction between supposed Syrian moderate rebels and Nusra and ISIS. While the US has focused attacks on the latter, both Assad and Vladimir Putin have focused on the former, primarily in western Syria, as a means to regain control of population centers within their grasp. The moderates have looked to the US to make good on their promises of support, to little avail, at least until now.
This cease-fire will play to Assad’s advantage in those negotiations. It should be clear by now to the moderate forces that US assistance means very little. They will need to make their peace with Assad soon and await another opportunity to replace the regime when the Russians get bored with propping up the dictator. That might be good news for the fight against ISIS, but it also might mean that Russia will bail out of that fight once Assad’s position has been re-secured. At the very least, it will give an opening for humanitarian efforts, and perhaps a reason for Syrian refugees to stay put or go home.
All of this depends, of course, on whether Assad and Sergei Lavrov really mean any of what they say at this point. They may be hoping to give the Obama administration an easy way out of the region, and expecting them to take it.