White House Meets on Syria Crisis, Fragile Cease-Fire

Posted on: September 16th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. secretary of state and the secretary of defense are set to meet with President Obama at the White House later Friday to discuss the war in Syria and the fight against ISIS.

The meeting comes as the tenuous, U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire in Syria enters its fifth day, and although the country has seen a great reduction in violence, humanitarian aid deliveries have yet to occur, according to the White House.

Much of the cease-fire negotiations centered around the guarantee of those deliveries — and without them, the agreement becomes increasingly unstable.

Kerry spoke by phone Friday with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asking him to use his influence to encourage Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to allow access by the United Nations’ humanitarian convoys, according to State Department spokesman John Kirby. Kerry also told Lavrov that plans for a joint military operation between the U.S. and Russia will not begin until that aid is delivered to those opposition held areas.

The agreement stuck in Geneva between Kerry and Lavrov called for the establishment of a “Joint Implementation Center” after seven days of sustained calm and aid deliveries, a place where Russia and the U.S. would share military intelligence and conduct operations against ISIS.

It appears, given the guidelines, that the seven-day clock has yet to start counting down. The State Department said earlier this week it would not talk publicly about the complexity of that timeline.

Meanwhile, that aid delivery hinges on one contested choke point into the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria, a highway called Castello Road. It’s one of the only remaining transit points into the devastated city of Aleppo that can accommodate the deliveries. Regime and rebel forces, both reluctant to back off from hard fought gains, are not backing off from their positions, making it too dangerous to send in the trucks.

The Syrian army has said it will pull back its forces as soon as the rebels are willing to do the same.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, several dozen U.S. Special Forces members have begun to advise, assist and accompany Turkish rebel groups fighting ISIS, according to a U.S. official. They’ll be fighting alongside Turkish special forces and vetted Syrian opposition forces in an effort to take the town of Dabiq from ISIS, part of a greater mission to rid the Turkish border region of extremists.

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