THE United States is considering a possible deal whereby Russia and Iran would stop Syria's regime dropping barrel bombs on civilians in return for concessions from Washington, John Kerry said yesterday (Tuesday).
The US secretary of state offered an insight into America's latest Syrian diplomacy. Having accepted that President Bashar al-Assad will stay in power for a "transitional period", the US is trying to persuade Russia and Iran to curb the worst excesses of their ally.
Assad's forces have killed at least 11,000 civilians by using helicopters to drop barrels packed with explosives, shrapnel and flammable liquid.
Mr Kerry said that forcing the regime to stop using these weapons - which breach international humanitarian law - was a priority. He told the BBC that he had raised this issue with Sergei
Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and with Iranian officials.
"They are both in a position, in exchange perhaps for something that we might do, they might decide to keep Assad from dropping barrel bombs," said Mr Kerry.
He also raised the possibility of localised ceasefires in Syria - something that has already happened in various areas of the country. "We have to save Syria. The world has to save Syria. This has dramatic implications for the entire region globally," said Mr Kerry.
What the US might offer Russia and Iran in return for restraining Assad was not made clear. American officials believe that Russia in particular has significant leverage over the Syrian leader, pointing to how the Kremlin ensured that he avoided US and French military action in 2013 by agreeing to surrender his chemical weapons.
Mr Kerry spoke as world leaders gathered for a counter-terrorism summit hosted by Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Mr Obama sat down with more than 100 leaders to focus on the work of the US-led coalition against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants.
The US yesterday tightened financial pressure on Isil, imposing sanctions and penalties on more than 30 leaders, supporters and affiliates around the world, including four British citizens.
Russia was invited to the counter-terrorism summit but President Vladimir Putin is pushing a rival plan to create a broad UN-led coalition to fight the jihadists.
"The UN has its own anti-terror strategy and everything could easily be done within the UN framework," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN envoy, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "But Americans would not be Americans if they did not seek to demonstrate their leadership. It is simply disrespectful towards the organisation to conduct these things at the UN."
Moscow was only sending a low-level diplomat to the talks, he added.
David Cameron said he was willing to "work with anybody" to build a Syria that was free of Assad's rule and free of Isil. Nonetheless, despite two days of talks, including a meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Putin, Mr Cameron conceded that the US and its allies
remained "miles apart" from Russia and Iran over how to handle the Syrian war.
Russia has intervened directly in Syria by deploying 28 jet fighters and hundreds of troops to bolster Assad's forces. But Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, pointed out that this was of little help in the struggle against Isil.
"You have to look at who is doing what. The international community is striking Daesh. France is striking Daesh. The Russians, for the time being, are not at all," said Mr Fabius, using the Arabic acronym for Isil. "If one is against the terrorists, it is not abnormal to strike the terrorists."
US intelligence fears that as many as 30,000 foreign fighters have travelled to Iraq and Syria since 2011, many of them to join Isil.