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U.S., Russian Diplomats Discuss Ways For Syria To Rejoin 'International Community'

Smoke billows during reported Syrian government shelling of the village of Sheikh Mustafa in the rebel-held Idlib Province.

Top U.S. and Russian diplomats are considering measures that could eventually allow Syria "to move back into the international community" if it agrees to a series of steps to help end the country's long civil war.

Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria engagement, on May 29 told reporters following a closed-door UN Security Council session that Washington and Moscow were studying a "step-by-step approach" to ending the eight-year war, but he added that a resolution will require "hard decisions."

The comments appeared to indicate new U.S.-Russia engagement to find a peaceful solution to the war that has led to the involvement of the United States and its allies, along with Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups.

Jeffrey cautioned that the U.S.-Russian engagement "is just a potential way forward," pointing out that there had been no progress yet in Syria regarding actions demanded by the United Nations and the U.S. administration.

Jeffrey said that during talks earlier in May in the Russian resort city of Sochi, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed a plan that "would allow a Syrian government that adheres to [UN Resolution] 2254 to move back into the international community."

"In terms of working with the Russians in Sochi, we believe that there is a sincere interest in finding a solution to this conflict," Jeffrey said.

"But this is going to take hard decisions -- hard decisions not only by us, but hard decisions by the Russians and hard decisions, most of all, by the Syrian regime," he added.

Russia, along with Iran, has provided crucial support to help the government of President Bashar al-Assad remain in power, while the United States and Turkey have backed differing rebel groups in the civil war.

Meanwhile, VOA reported May 27 that there are some manifestations of tensions between Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces, mostly emanating from rivalries to carve out spheres of influence. There have even been clashes among units of the Syrian army, which might be led by officers who have conflicting loyalties, torn between Russia and Iran.

UN Resolution 2254 of June 30, 2012, calls for peace talks, the drafting of a new constitution, and UN-supervised elections.

"So far, we haven't seen steps such as a cease-fire in Idlib [and] the convening of a constitutional committee that would give us confidence that the Assad regime actually understands what it must do to end this conflict."

On the contrary, Syrian and Russian forces have intensified attacks on Idlib. Satellite imagery in recent days even showed crop fields on fire as a result of intensive bombardment. Dozens of citizens and rebels have been killed.

At the onset of the civil war, the United States had said Assad must be removed from power, but it subsequently backed off that demand.

Jeffrey said he met separately with envoys from Security Council members Russia, Britain, France, and China and that there was a "sincere interest in finding a solution to this conflict."

UN envoy Geir Pedersen stressed that U.S.-Russia cooperation was key to delivering a Syrian peace deal but that the Damascus government must also cooperate.

"Without that, we risk what I call a 'no war, no peace' scenario where things will continue to be complicated and we will not see a Syria that is a normal part of international society in the future," he said.

More than 400,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced since the war began in March 2011 after a crackdown on anti-Assad protests.

With reporting by AFP, AP and VOA