The United States and Russia agreed on Friday to the renewal of a ceasefire in Syria, beginning Monday, with the cessation of all air and ground attacks by all parties, including the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
If the truce holds for seven consecutive days and humanitarian aid begins to flow unimpeded to besieged areas, Secretary of State John F Kerry said the United States and Russia will then establish a ''Joint Implementation Center'' to coordinate their intelligence and air attacks against agreed terrorist targets in Syria.
A ''bedrock'' of the agreement, Kerry said, is Russia's ensuring that Assad's air force will no longer fly combat missions over opposition and civilian areas. ''This step is absolutely essential,'' Kerry said. ''By all accounts, Assad air attacks have been the main driver of civilian casualties and migration flows'' out of Syria.
The agreement is the culmination of months of up-and-down talks between Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who met here on Friday for a marathon negotiating session that ended several hours late after delayed consultations between Kerry and senior national security officials in Washington.
And it was welcomed on Friday in Geneva by Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria. ''The United Nations hopes that the political will that led to this understanding is sustained,'' he said. ''It creates a real window of opportunity which all relevant actors in the region and beyond should seize to put the crisis in Syria on a different path and ease the violence and suffering being endured by the Syrian people.''
Both Kerry and Lavrov emphasised that outside supporters of all non-terrorist belligerents would have to bring their allies in line. They provided no details on how they would deal with violations.
Documents outlining the specifics of the agreement were not released, and Lavrov said at a news conference that they would be withheld to prevent terrorist targets from anticipating attacks against them. Only the broad outlines were described at the news conference.
Final approval from Washington came after Kerry spent hours on Friday on a secure conference video with top national security officials in Washington, some of whom - particularly in the Pentagon - have disagreed with proposed coordination of counterterrorism airstrikes with Russia.
Lavrov took advantage of the delay to score some propaganda points with the media awaiting their joint news conference, distributing pizza and bottles of vodka to reporters.
In the news conference, the Russian minister underlined that agreement had been undermined by a ''deep lack of confidence and trust between Russia and the American partners,'' particularly, but not exclusively, in Syria.