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U.S. suspends efforts to work with Russia on Syria cease-fire

In this Sept. 22 file photo, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks in New York. The State Department says the U.S. is suspending bilateral contacts with Russia over Syria. (Jason DeCrow / Associated Press)
By Karen Deyoung Washington Post

The United States has suspended plans for coordinating counter-terrorism strikes in Syria with Russia and negotiations over a cease-fire, the State Department said Monday.

“Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments” to suspend bombing of civilian areas and facilitate humanitarian aid shipments, spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, “and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed.”

The suspension, threatened by the Obama administration last week amid an ongoing brutal bombing campaign by Syria and Russia in Aleppo, came amid worsening relations with Russia across a broad array of issues and trouble spots.

Just hours earlier, the Kremlin announced Russia had suspended participation in a landmark agreement with the United States to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium.

A decree issued by President Vladimir Putin said the plutonium suspension was the result of U.S. “unfriendly actions,” and demanded that Washington reduce its military presence in NATO countries near Russia and cancel all sanctions against it.

The Syria agreement was part of a year-long effort spearheaded by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to persuade Russia to help bring a negotiated political end to Syria’s civil war. In exchange for using its leverage with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ground his air force and allow the flow of humanitarian aid to civilian populations, the United States said it would work to separate U.S.-backed anti-Assad groups from al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists and join together with the Russians to attack terrorist targets.

Instead, both Syria and Russia stepped up their bombing attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in the country within days of the Sept. 12 beginning of a cease-fire, including the destruction of an aid convoy.