Koenders discusses conflict in Syria with Kerry

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the margins of the annual Munich Security Conference to discuss the new Syria agreement. He also spoke to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura about the need to quickly implement the steps laid out in the agreement.

Secretary Kerry welcomed the Netherlands as the 18th country to join the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the core group of countries and international organisations, led by the United States and Russia, that agreed to facilitate a cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian aid during the Munich Security Conference. The ISSG, including the Netherlands, will convene again on Wednesday. ‘This is a wobbly structure that needs shoring up. We will be working with the countries concerned to strengthen this agreement in the coming weeks,’ said Mr Koenders.

According to the minister, Russia will play an important role in the weeks ahead. ‘The Assad regime’s Russian-backed offensive in Aleppo province led to a huge number of civilian casualties and brought an end to peace talks for the time being.’ Mr Koenders spoke to Mr Kerry about the need to intensify diplomatic efforts to persuade Russia to make a more constructive contribution. The ISSG is playing an important role in this respect.

‘A successful solution hinges on the peace talks in Geneva at the end of this month,’ said Mr Koenders after his meetings. Talks led by Mr de Mistura were suspended earlier in part because no progress could be made in alleviating the humanitarian situation in Syria. The ISSG agreement should change that.

Mr Koenders and Mr Kerry agreed that despite the deteriorating situation on the ground, all efforts should be directed at keeping the negotiations alive. ‘We know from experience that negotiations like these aren’t easy. The fact that they were suspended shows that the process is fragile. But it is important that a start has been made. We are going to support Mr de Mistura in his efforts to get the process going again,’ the minister stressed.

Mr Koenders also spoke to Mr Kerry about the Netherlands’ increased involvement in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ‘International cooperation is crucial to combating terrorism. The only way to slay this many-headed monster is by working together. And the US has demonstrated once again that it is Europe’s ally,’ said the minister.