United States and Russian Federation agree to joint air strikes in Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during

Only if commitments by Moscow and the Assad government to cease violence for seven days are "fully met" will the U.S. and Russian Federation start cooperating with joint strikes, the Pentagon said in a statement following the announcement.

The new agreement calls for a seven-day cessation of hostilities between the regime and the opposition starting September 12, as well as a halt to regime aircraft flying combat missions in opposition territory.

But both Kerry and Lavrov said the plan represents the best available chance to end the fighting between Assad and the mainstream opposition rebels, while still targeting Al Nusra jihadist rebels and Islamic State extremists. "Not indiscriminately, but in a systematic way", he said.

The US and Russia agreed a tentative ceasefire deal for Syria late on Friday night, meant to lead the way to a joint US-Russian air campaign against Islamic State and other extremist groups and new negotiations on the country's political future.

It will be followed by coordinated strikes against Al Nusra jihadist rebels and the Islamic State group - if it holds for a week, Mr Lavrov said. Nusra has close ties with a lot of US-backed rebels, and Kerry warned it would be "unwise" for those groups to maintain such ties. In exchange, Mr. Assad's air force would halt all operations, and US and Russian airstrikes would target only Islamic State and the Syria Conquest Front.

Mr. Lavrov said the Syrian government had been informed of the arrangements and is ready to enforce them.

The fighting is being interrupted, Kerry said, to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid - particularly in the heavily contested city of Aleppo. "And it has the ability to stick, providing the regime and the opposition both meet their obligations".

He had said hours earlier that Russian Federation was on board and merely waiting for the U.S.to sign on, as Kerry conducted discussions with other administration officials.

The Foreign Secretary said: "I welcome the agreement that the U.S. and Russian Federation have reached to restore the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access in Syria".

After the Geneva announcement, Pentagon secretary Peter Cook offered a guarded endorsement of the arrangement and cautioned, "We will be watching closely the implementation of this understanding in the days ahead".

Mr Lavrov said President Assad's government was prepared to comply. The announcement on Friday was delayed as Kerry and USA negotiators consulted with officials in Washington. At one point, Lavrov emerged from negotiations to signal that the delay was due to officials in Washington who were holding up the accord's approval.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says that Washington and Moscow are still in the process of reviewing a drafted proposal for a seven to ten-day truce. "I apologize for the delay but we can not help it", Lavrov told reporters who had assembled to hear the announcement. He then presented journalists with several boxes of pizza, saying, "This is from the USA delegation", and two bottles of vodka, adding, "This is from the Russian delegation". "We welcome the deal if it is going to be enforced".

United States and Russian Federation agree to joint air strikes in Syria
United States and Russian Federation agree to joint air strikes in Syria

"We, as John has just said, are creating a joint operations centre where military and special forces from Russian Federation and the USA will treat practical questions of separating terrorists and moderate opposition". "By all accounts, Assad air attacks have been the main driver of civilian casualties and migration flows" out of Syria.

The Americans and their allies have been insisting that Syrian regime forces, accused of widespread civilian massacres, must stand down.

Now, the two powers are lining up in an unexpected new military partnership targeting IS and al-Qaida-linked militants, while trying to prod Assad and opposition groups to end a civil war that has killed up to 500,000 people and displaced millions.

A nationwide ceasefire between government forces and rebel groups is set to begin at sunset on Monday.

Kerry said it would be "wise" for opposition forces to separate completely from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a statement Lavrov hailed.

Speaking in Geneva with the U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, O'Brien said the worldwide body will continue to press for a 48-hour weekly humanitarian pause.

"I call on all parties to the Syria conflict and all countries with influence upon them to do what is needed to end violence and lift sieges", said Mr Johnson.

The civil war in Syria, which has its roots in 2011's Arab Spring, has pitted the long-standing Assad regime and its supporters in Russian Federation and Iran against an assortment of secular and Islamist groups - prone to frequent infighting - backed by Sunni and Western countries. Some of those groups are supported by the US.

The deal culminates months of frenetic diplomacy that included four meetings between Kerry and Lavrov since August 26, and a lengthy face-to-face in China between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin.

The decision to deepen cooperation with Moscow was already controversial, given the Obama administration's public criticism of Russia's role in Syria.

The agreement also involves pullbacks from both sides in a major road in the war-torn city of Aleppo and the creation of a demilitarized zone, and unhindered humanitarian access. "The only way to stop the carnage in Syria is to get some sensible transition away from Assad and the Russians are key to that", Smith said.

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