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U.S. Suspends Talks With Russia on Syria

WASHINGTON — The United States formally suspended talks with Russia about the protracted Syria conflict on Monday because of the Russian military’s role in the assault on the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

The United States also shelved plans with Russia for the joint military targeting of jihadists in Syria, the State Department said in a statement.

The American step reflected aggravated tensions with Russia on a range of issues and raised new challenges over how to de-escalate and resolve the Syria war, which has left roughly half a million people dead since 2011.

“The United States is suspending its participation in bilateral channels with Russia that were established to sustain the cessation of hostilities,” John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said in the statement, referring to the agreement on Syria reached with Russia on Sept. 9.

The decision was announced less than a week after Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to suspend the talks with Russia aimed at reviving the cease-fire agreement.

That deal collapsed after a few days, with each side blaming the other, as Syria and its Russian ally intensively bombed rebel-held parts of Aleppo, the northern Syrian city that has become a focus of the war.

Roughly 275,000 civilians are trapped in those areas, including an estimated 100,000 children. Hundreds of people there have been killed in the past week, international aid groups say.

Interactive Feature | Audio Reveals What John Kerry Told Syrians Behind Closed Doors In a private meeting with Syrians, the secretary of state expressed frustration with Russia, the Obama administration’s failure to back diplomacy with force, and the shrinking prospects for a cease-fire. Listen to his conversation.

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” Mr. Kirby said. “The United States spared no effort in negotiating and attempting to implement an arrangement with Russia aimed at reducing violence, providing unhindered humanitarian access, and degrading terrorist organizations operating in Syria,” including fighters of the Islamic State and the Levant Conquest Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front.

“Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments,” the statement added. “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.”

When Mr. Kerry first threatened a suspension, he asked for more time to continue his discussions with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. The two diplomats talked a few times by telephone but did not resolve the matter.

The Russians have said the United States has not lived up to its side of the agreement because it did not persuade moderate opposition fighters to dissociate themselves from the radical jihadists in Syria that both the Americans and Russians have sought to target.

Even though talks have been broken off, the United States military will continue to “deconflict” its air operations with the Russian military, the State Department said.

The formal suspension of the talks left the troubled diplomatic efforts to halt the war in further disarray.

The suspension came as France was pushing the United Nations Security Council to adopt a toughly worded resolution that calls on the Syrian government to halt aerial bombardments and let in humanitarian aid, even as proposed language in the resolution promises accountability for war crimes, diplomats said.

Graphic | Hundreds of Thousands of Syrians Are Trapped, Unable to Get Food or Aid Civilians in these areas have limited or no access to food, medicine and basic necessities.

The draft resolution avoids references to Russia’s role in the aerial bombardments, diplomats said, but it still appears unlikely to win over Russian support.

The gulf between Russia and the Western powers on the Security Council over Syria now appears to be as wide as it has been in years.

The cease-fire agreement was never given much chance of success. It was especially undermined after an accidental American bombing of Syrian forces on Sept. 17 — for which the United States apologized — and then the Sept. 19 bombing of a United Nations aid convoy.

The Americans have blamed the Russians for the convoy attack, which the Russians have denied. The British have accused Russia of war crimes.

Some diplomats at the United Nations suggested that the French resolution would corner Russia and ultimately force its veto.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, the Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennadi Gatilov, on Monday called the French draft resolution “one-sided” and said it was designed to put “additional pressure on Syria and Russia,” according to a report by the Tass news agency.

The draft measure proposes to set up a “monitoring mechanism” to track a would-be cease-fire, and asks the secretary general to propose what form that would take within five days.

Negotiations were underway on Monday on the draft resolution. It is unclear whether or when it will be formally circulated for a vote. Russia has some say in that question, since it coincidentally presides over the Security Council in October, as part of a monthly rotation.

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(via NY Times)