Kerry warns Assad regime against exploiting truce

Kerry warned the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies including Russia against exploiting the fragile ceasefire in Syria

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US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday warned the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies, including Russia, against exploiting the fragile ceasefire in Syria for their own means.

“If the regime and its backers think they can test boundaries, diminish their compliance in certain areas, or act in ways that call into question their commitment to the cessation - without serious consequences for the progress we have made - they are mistaken,” Kerry said after talks with his European allies in Paris.

Kerry made the statement after meeting with new French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Europe’s top diplomats to discuss major international issues including the Syria peace talks.

The British, German and Italian foreign ministers and the EU foreign policy chief also joined the meeting Sunday in Paris.

During the meeting with Ayrault, Kerry said that the Syrian government comments on peace talks trying "to disrupt" the process.

A day earlier, the Syrian government said that it would not discuss presidential elections at peace talks in Geneva this week or hold talks with any party wishing to discuss the question of the presidency.

“It’s a provocation ... a bad sign and doesn’t correspond to the spirit of the ceasefire,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at Sunday's news conference.

Kerry said the Syrian government and its backers were mistaken if they thought they could continue to test the boundaries of a fragile truce. Accusing Syria of carrying out the most violations of the truce, Kerry said Russian President Vladimir Putin needed to look at how Assad was acting.

“President Assad is singing on a completely different song sheet and sent his foreign minister out yesterday to try to act as a spoiler and take off the table what President Putin and the Iranians have agreed to,” Kerry said.

The meeting comes ahead of UN-sponsored indirect peace talks on Syria, which are scheduled to start Monday in Geneva amid a two-week partial cease-fire that has mostly held.

Regime delegation

The chief negotiator of the regime in Damascus Bashar al-Jaafari, who is also the Syrian ambassador to the UN in New York, arrived Sunday morning in Geneva to participate in peace talks scheduled to begin on Monday under the aegis of the UN.

The Syrian regime’s opposition’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Allouche arrived in Geneva on Saturday with other members of the High Negotiations Committee (HCN), bringing together the key groups of the opposition.

The UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has announced that the second round of talks would last at most until 24 March. The first round held last month was cut short because of heavy shelling in Syria from Russia, an ally of Damascus, denounced by the HCN.

(With agencies)

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