The US has formally suspended its bilateral channels with Russia over the continued Russian aerial bombardment of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed in a statement released Monday.
“This was not a decision that was taken lightly,” the statement said.
“The US spared no effort in negotiating and attempting to implement an arrangement with Russia aimed at reducing the violence, providing unhindered humanitarian access, and degrading terrorist organisations operating in Syria.
“Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments,” the statement continued. “Including its obligations under international humanitarian law and UNSCR 2254.”
UNSCR 2254 is the UN Security Council Resolution adopted in December 2015 calling for a cease-fire and political settlement in Syria.
“Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities, as demonstrated by their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need,” the statement said.
The formal suspension comes five days after US Secretary of State John Kerry first threatened to cut off the negotiations.
Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call last week that the US was preparing to “suspend US-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria … unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo” and restore a cease-fire.
The State Department issued a statement about the call, saying “the secretary made clear the United States and its partners hold Russia responsible for this situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker buster bombs in an urban environment, a drastic escalation that puts civilians at great risk.”
Hundreds of people have died during the past week in the worst bombings on the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo since the war began in 2011.
The bombings, which have also targeted rescue services in the city, punctuated the collapse of a fragile cease-fire brokered between the US and Russia earlier this month.
The cease-fire was part of a deal between the US and Russia to coordinate their military operations in Syria and share intelligence about terrorist positions. That deal had been jeopardized by the latest scorched-earth offensive on Aleppo, however, with American and Russian diplomats exchanging diplomatic jabs early last week.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism — it is barbarism,” Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told member nations at a UN Security Council meeting last Sunday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded by calling the language “unacceptable.”
A Joint Implementation Center was being set up in Jordan, where the US and Russia were set to coordinate their activities in Syria. But all personnel who had been dispatched to the center in anticipation of the US-Russia deal were going to be withdrawn, Kirby said.
“To ensure the safety of our respective military personnel and enable the fight against Daesh, the US will continue to utilise the channel of communications established with Russia to de-conflict counterterrorism operations in Syria.”
The State Department’s announcement came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium over the US’s “unfriendly acts.”
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