The road to peace in Syria experienced yet another setback Thursday, following reports that Russia plans to sell upgraded "ship killer" missiles to the Bashar al-Assad regime.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both cited the importance of lowering suspicion and improving ties with Russia – an historical ally of Assad – leading up to a proposed multilateral meeting this summer in Geneva. Western countries hope an international agreement including Russia will help usher in a peaceful political transition in Syria following more than two years of brutal civil war.
These plans appear stymied after Russia sent to Syria advanced versions of its P-800 Oniks "Yakhont" anti-ship missiles, which could prevent an attempted naval embargo, reports the New York Times.
A a joint press conference at the White House earlier this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there "is no more urgent international task than this," adding there is "common ground" and "real political will" between Western nations and Russia for reaching an agreement on Syria.
"There remains lingering suspicions between Russia and other members of the G8 or the West," President Barack Obama said. "It's been several decades now since Russia transformed itself and the Eastern Bloc transformed itself, but some of this suspicions still exist."
The U.S. and U.K. have been "very persistent" in trying to break down those barriers, he added.
"Russia and China being part of this process is very important, and this is important in the context of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, speaking a joint press conference at the White House Thursday afternoon.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with senior Turkish defense officials at the Pentagon Friday.
Secretary Kerry traveled to Moscow last week to meet with senior leaders over a proposed follow-up to the 2012 Geneva conference which would likely take place in early June. The Russian delegation to last year's summit refused to sign an agreement asking Assad to step down.
"If the political willpower is there and shared, and if people are willing to compromise reasonably, there is a path forward to be able to have a peaceful solution in Syria," he said upon his return to the U.S. "If we can get to this meeting in Geneva, the arguments will be very clear to everybody as to who is prepared to be reasonable, and who is not prepared to be reasonable."
But Russia isn't the only obstacle to renewed negotiations. The Washington Post reports rebel fighters in Syria refuse to attend peace talks unless it receives greater access to weapons from countries such as the U.S.
"We're not going to sit at the table while Assad continues to kill, supported by Russia and Hezbollah," said Khalid Saleh, a Syrian Opposition Coalition spokesman, the Post reports. "What we are asking for is arming the Free Syrian Army or Supreme Military Council – before the talks."