HANGZHOU, CHINA — President Barack Obama says he had “productive” talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Syria but the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on a cease-fire deal that would allow more humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged country.
“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation,” Obama told a news conference closing the Group of 20 Nations Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, China. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps.”
Obama and Putin held talks earlier in the day Monday.
Obama said he has instructed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to “Keep working at it over the next several days” in discussions with the Russians about Syria.
A potential cease-fire would involve the Syrian government, a Russian ally, and rebels supported by the United States to aid some of the millions of Syrians in need of food and medical supplies.
The two countries appeared to be closing in on a possible deal on Sunday, but major obstacles remained.
“We have grave differences with the Russians in terms of both the parties we support but also the process that is required to bring about peace in Syria,” Obama told reporters Sunday.
Russian President Putin is quoted as saying the Syrian conflict can only be resolved through political means.
Moscow has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but the United States has worked with moderate opposition forces fighting Assad.
“But if we do not get some buy-in from the Russians on reducing the violence and easing the humanitarian crisis, then it’s difficult to see how we get to the next phase,” said Obama.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss Syria Sunday and the two will meet again Monday.
“It’s fair to say that out of the review I think there are a couple of tough issues that we talked about today,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting, but declined to give details. “We will meet tomorrow morning and see whether or not it is possible to bridge the gap and come to a conclusion on these couple of issues.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the two sides are close to a deal and that they are talking about the most serious issues of implementing a cease-fire. “The most intense work is continuing,” Ryabkov said. “Until we lay the last brick… We can’t say that the results have been achieved.”
The civil war in Syria has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced 11 million and led to a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.
The conflict is also contributing to a rise in militant Islamist groups. U.S. and Russian military officials have been meeting for weeks to try and work out the terms of the deal. Previous cease-fire agreements have failed to last for long as both back opposite sides in the five-year war.