Saturday 26 May 2018

US 'concerned' by Russian military movement in Syria

US President Barack Obama delivers a speech following a US-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, on April 21, 2016.
US President Barack Obama delivers a speech following a US-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, on April 21, 2016.

Roberta Rampton and John Irish in New York

The United States says it is concerned about reports that Russia is moving more military equipment into Syria to bolster President Bashar al-Assad with a truce in tatters and peace talks in meltdown.

Fighting raged across Syria after the truce, brokered by Washington and Moscow to allow talks to take place, ended and both sides geared up for more war.

Russian intervention late last year swayed the conflict in Assad's favour.

"We've been concerned about reports of Russia ­moving ­materiel into Syria," Ben ­Rhodes, deputy national ­security ­adviser to US President Barack Obama, said at a news briefing in Riyadh, where Mr Obama was at a summit with Gulf Arab leaders.

"We think it would be negative for Russia to move additional military equipment or personnel into Syria. We believe that our efforts are best focused on supporting the diplomatic process," Mr Rhodes added.

UN special envoy ­Staffan de Mistura will today ­assess ­whether Geneva talks can ­continue with the main ­opposition negotiator refusing to participate and combatants accusing each other of breaking the six-week-old ceasefire.

Major nations have urged both parties not to miss this chance to try to halt the five-year conflict in which more than 250,000 people have been killed, but yesterday only experts were meeting and more opposition representatives were leaving.

Syrian government negotiators say Mr Assad's presidency is non-negotiable, while the opposition says the president must step down and complains of no progress on an end to violence, humanitarian access and political detainees.

Both sides remain far apart and it will be difficult to lure the opposition back to the table if fighting resumes unchecked, with the government taking advantage of Russia's firepower.

Press reports in the United States have indicated that Russia has moved more artillery into Syria, weeks after declaring a partial withdrawal of its ­military presence there.

The talks in Geneva aim to halt a conflict that has allowed for the rise of the Islamic State group, sucked in regional and major powers and created the world's worst refugee crisis.

Syria's fragile peace talks might not resume for at least a year if they are abandoned now, a senior Western ­diplomat warned. "If we all leave Geneva, I don't see the process continuing."

Meanwhile, Mr Obama says the United States will deter and confront aggression against Gulf Arab monarchies, who continue to have concerns about threats from Iran. "I reaffirmed the policy of the United States to use all elements of our power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and our partners," he said in Riyadh yesterday after the summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The US president added that all the leaders were committed both to the fight against Isil and to de-escalating regional conflicts, .

Footage and photographs aired on state media showed the leaders at a large circular table under a chandelier, with Mr Obama sitting with King Salman on his left and the Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan on his right.

Irish Independent

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