MOSCOW — Russia’s defence minister said Monday that Moscow and Washington are edging closer to an agreement that would help defuse the situation in the besieged Syrian city Aleppo.
Sergei Shoigu said in remarks carried Monday by Rossiya 24 television that “step by step, we are nearing an arrangement. I’m talking exclusively about Aleppo, that would allow us to find common ground and start fighting together for bringing peace to that territory, that long-suffering land so that people could return to their homes.”
He added that Russian representatives are “in a very active stage of talks with our American colleagues.”
Fighting for Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital and its largest city, has become the focal point of the nation’s civil war, now in its sixth year.
A U.S. official said, however, that discussions with the Russians are still ongoing and no agreement is close. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
“We have nothing to announce at this time,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters in Washington. “We do speak regularly with Russian officials about way to strengthen the cessation of hostilities, improve humanitarian access and bring about conditions necessary to find a political solution.”
Russia and the U.S. have been discussing greater co-ordination in Syria, but they have been unable to reach agreement on which militant groups could be targeted.
Russia has criticized what it describes as U.S. reluctance to persuade the Syrian opposition groups it supports to withdraw from areas controlled by the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida’s branch in Syria.
Shoigu said in the TV interview that extremists in Syria are often positioned near groups that the U.S. considers moderate.
The Nusra has rebranded itself and now goes under the name of Fath al-Sham, an apparent attempt to evade Russian and U.S.-led airstrikes targeting militants. Russia has dismissed the name change as window-dressing.