US suspends bilateral channels with Russia on Syria

CCTV News

In this Sept. 22, 2016 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. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File) In this Sept. 22, 2016 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. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.

CCTV America’s Jim Spellman reports.

US suspends bilateral channels with Russia on Syria

US suspends bilateral channels with Russia on Syria

In a sharp deterioration of relations, the U.S. on Monday suspended diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria, while Moscow halted cooperation on a joint program for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium. CCTV America's Jim Spellman reports.

According to a U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby, the decision was made after attempts at negotiating a deal with Russia that would reduce violence, provide unhindered humanitarian access, and degrade terrorist groups in Syria.

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes by government helicopters on the rebel-held Aleppo neighborhood of Mashhad, Syria, Tuesday Sept. 27, 2016. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes by government helicopters on the rebel-held Aleppo neighborhood of Mashhad, Syria, Tuesday Sept. 27, 2016. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” Kirby said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments … and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed.”

Kirby cited Russia’s obligations under international humanitarian law and UNSCR 2254, saying Russia was either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to such agreements.

“Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course, inconsistent with the Cessation of Hostilities, as demonstrated by their intensified attacks against civilian areas, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need, including through the September 19 attack on a humanitarian aid convoy,” Kirby said.

An airstrike last month hit a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy, killing 20 people. The United States has accused Russia of hitting the convoy, but both Russia and Syria deny it.

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, taken Sept. 23, 2016, a destroyed ambulance is seen outside the Syrian Civil Defense main center after airstrikes in Ansari neighborhood in the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, taken Sept. 23, 2016, a destroyed ambulance is seen outside the Syrian Civil Defense main center after airstrikes in Ansari neighborhood in the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Monday’s announcement came just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended a Russia-U.S. deal on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, in a move that also underscored rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Putin’s decree cited as reasons for Moscow’s move the “emerging threat to strategic stability as a result of U.S. unfriendly actions,” as well as Washington’s failure to meet its end of the deal. It said, however, that Russia will keep the weapons-grade plutonium covered under the agreement away from weapons programs.

Under the agreement, which was signed in 2000 and expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the U.S. each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.

When it was signed, the deal was touted as an example of successful cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation between Washington and Moscow.

“Russia has been observing the agreement unilaterally for quite a long time, but now it no longer sees such a situation as possible amid the tensions,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Commenting on Putin’s move, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.S. has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation,” citing U.S. sanctions on Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis and deploying NATO forces near Russian borders.

“We would like to bring Washington back to understanding that it can’t introduce sanctions against us in areas where it’s quite painless for the Americans, and at the same time continue selective cooperation in areas it sees as advantageous,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Meanwhile the White House said it’s patience had run out with Russia in Syria.

“From the beginning, Obama was insistent that the U.S. would not be in a position to provide Russia military cooperation until Russia demonstrates commitment to live up to terms of the agreement. Russia never did that unfortunately,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“What is clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to stopping the ongoing violence in Syria and that is unfortunate,” he told reporters. “It’s tragic….It’s likely to lead to more ongoing Russian violence aiding and abetting Assad regime forces.”

He said the U.S. would withdraw personnel that it had dispatched to take part in the creation of a joint U.S.-Russia center that was to have coordinated military cooperation and intelligence had the cease-fire taken hold. The suspension will not affect communications between the two countries aimed at de-conflicting counter-terrorism operations in Syria.

Last week, amid the deteriorating conditions, Kerry threatened to suspend contacts with Russia unless “immediate” action was taken to ease the situation. Despite no improvements, however, he did not order the suspension until Monday.

Story by CCTV America and the Associated Press.