GENEVA — US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, will try to hammer out final details of a co-operation agreement on fighting Islamic State in Syria during talks in Geneva on Friday.
The hope is that a deal will lead to a cessation of hostilities across Syria and relaunch talks on a political transition in the country.
While Kerry said this week that technical teams from both sides were close to the end of their discussions, US officials indicated it was too early to say whether a deal was likely.
When Kerry launched the Syrian co-operation talks in July on a visit to Moscow, the proposal involved Washington and Moscow sharing intelligence to co-ordinate airstrikes against Islamic State and grounding the Syrian air force to stop it from attacking moderate rebel groups.
Kerry believes the plan is the best chance to limit the fighting that is driving thousands of Syrians into exile in Europe and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching tens of thousands more, as well as preserving a political track.
The talks take place just days after Syrian rebels backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes entered Jarablus, one of Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish military shelled the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, south of Jarablus and demanded that the YPG retreat to the east side of the Euphrates River within a week.
The Kurdish militia had moved west of the river earlier in August as part of a US-backed operation, now completed, to capture the city of Manbij from Islamic State.
Turkey’s stance puts it at odds with Washington, which sees the YPG as a rare reliable ally on the ground in Syria.
By reaching a deal with Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Washington hopes that it will help to launch talks on a political transition in Syria.
Russia agreed to a 48-hour humanitarian ceasefire in the divided Syrian city of Aleppo to allow aid deliveries, although UN officials said they were waiting for security guarantees from parties on the ground.
The UN has pushed for a weekly pause in the fighting in Aleppo to deliver food, water and medicine to people caught in the fighting.
Separately, Syrian rebels and government forces agreed in a deal on Thursday to evacuate all residents and insurgents from the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, ending one of the longest standoffs in the five-year conflict.
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