WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to the Middle East to press his case for peace talks between Syrian rebels and President Bashar Assad's regime amid increasing signs the new U.S. strategy to halt the war is being undermined by Russia.
Kerry left Washington on Monday for Oman where he will have discussions with the sultan of the Gulf state. He will then travel on to Jordan to gather with 10 of America's closest European and Arab partners to discuss how to advance a political transition and end more than two years of bloodshed in Syria, before traveling on to Israel.
For the Syria negotiations to succeed, the Obama administration is banking on Russia's help.
The U.S. and Russia have wrangled repeatedly while more than 70,000 Syrians have died, but they now say they're working together to start direct talks between Syria's government and the opposition in Geneva next month. Washington demands Assad's ouster, while Russia continues to provide the Syrian leader with military aid and diplomatic cover, but President Barack Obama this week said the meeting "may yield results."
The optimism echoes the message of Kerry, who during his Moscow visit earlier this month declared that the old Cold War foes, by rejuvenating Syrian peace hopes, were demonstrating how they "can accomplish great things together when the world needs it."
For all the heady talk of cooperation, however, Russia has continued to rebuff American demands that it cut off military support for Assad.
Moscow is preparing to give Syria state-of-the-art ground-to-air missile systems, Israeli officials say. It is beefing up its naval presence near its base in northwestern Syria, reports suggest. And, in the latest revelation, U.S. officials say Russia has provided the Assad regime with anti-ship cruise missiles.