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US, Russia make renewed push for partnership in Syria

The United States and Russia on Friday renewed efforts to secure a military and humanitarian cooperation agreement for war-torn Syria as conditions on the ground continued to deteriorate after months of hesitation, missed deadlines and failed attempts to forge a nationwide truce.

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US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were meeting in Geneva as part of a new US bid to enlist Russia as a partner in Syria as the fighting becomes more volatile and complicated with the introduction of Turkish ground forces. Neither Washington nor Moscow has signaled that an agreement is imminent, although progress appears to have been made in one critical battleground: the besieged city of Aleppo, where the United Nations has been clamoring for a 48-hour cease-fire so humanitarian aid can be shipped into the city.

Asked to describe the main impediment to a nationwide ceasefire in Syria as he sat down with Kerry, Lavrov said: “I don’t want to spoil the atmosphere for the negotiations.” Kerry did not speak and it was not immediately clear if either man would address reporters after their talks, which are expected to last several hours and also include discussions about the crisis in Ukraine.

On Thursday, UN officials said Russia was on board for a plan to win a 48-hour pause in fighting in and around Aleppo so that aid can be delivered to its increasingly embattled population. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry simply reiterated its general support for a ceasefire to open an aid corridor, and was waiting for the UN to announce it is ready.

The three-point plan for Aleppo, which UN officials say now needs the approval of two rebel groups and the Syrian government, would involve road convoys both from Damascus and across the Turkish border through the critical Castello Road artery. Another mission would go to southern Aleppo to help revive a damaged electric plant that powers crucial pumping stations that supply water for 1.8 million people. Kerry was to meet with the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mistura, later Friday in Geneva.

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