The State Department says it does not believe there has been a deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations over the crisis in Syria, in spite of the Russian-backed Syrian government’s continued bombing of civilian and rebel targets.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that there are “constant daily communications” between the U.S. and Russia inside the Syria cease-fire task force, which the countries co-chair.
He added that in terms of efforts to foster a political resolution to Syria’s crisis, “U.S.-Russian leadership is still required inside of the ISSG [International Syria Support Group],” the17-nation body backing U.N.-facilitated talks and a cessation of hostilities that is showing signs of fray.
In spite of the cease-fire, at least 20 people were killed in an overnight airstrike on an Aleppo hospital, including a pediatrician and children.
Overall, fighting between the government and rebels in the northern city has left more than 50 people dead over the past day.
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the hospital attack but said the U.S. is still trying to gather the facts surrounding the incident.
“It appears to have been a deliberate strike on a known medical facility and follows the Assad regime’s appalling record of striking such facilities and first responders,” said Kerry.
The State Department and White House urged Russia to use its influence with the Assad government to try to stop such attacks.
“The message that we are sending to the Russians is a direct one,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “They need to abide by the cessation of hostilities that they signed on to, and that they need to use their influence with the Assad regime to do the same.”
Kirby said it appears that Russia is not exerting its influence on Syria as “energetically” as it could. However, he added that it is also possible that the Assad regime is just not heeding Moscow’s advice.
“It is hard to know to which. This is either not enough influence being applied or not enough attention being given to the influence being applied,” said Kirby. He said the problem could be a combination of both.
The cease-fire breaches have impacted the U.N.-mediated proximity talks between the Syrian government and opposition.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said the cease-fire is “barely alive” and could fall apart at any time. He commented after wrapping up a third round of talks in Geneva on Wednesday.
De Mistura said he planned to hold a fourth round next month, but called for the cease-fire to be “revitalized” before he sets a date.
At the State Department, Kirby said the U.S. is going to continue to talk to Russia about how to keep the cessation of hostilities alive and make it more sustainable.
“We are looking at ways in which we can do that,” he said.