BELGRADE Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said talks with the United States on Syria were at a dead end, and Islamic State's advance to Palmyra may have been staged by the United States and its regional allies to allow Syrian rebels in Aleppo a respite.
During a visit to Belgrade, Lavrov said Russia was ready to quickly negotiate with the United States the opening of corridors for the pullout of rebels from Aleppo, but said these would have to be agreed before any ceasefire happened.
"Our American colleagues do, so to speak, agree with that, and from Dec. 3 when we met John Kerry in Rome they supported such a concept and even gave us their approval on paper," Lavrov told reporters at a news conference with his Serbian counterpart on Monday.
"But after three days they revoked that agreement and returned to their old, dead-end position which comprises this: Before the agreement on corridors there has to be a truce... as I understand, this would just mean the rebels would get a break," he said.
Earlier in the day, a military source said the Syrian army was on the verge of announcing victory in its battle to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
The Syrian army made new advances on Monday after taking the Sheikh Saeed district, leaving rebels trapped in a tiny part of the city.
Lavrov also said he believed that Islamic State's seizure of Palmyra might have been engineered by the U.S.-led coalition to divert attention from Aleppo.
"That leads us to a thought - and I am sincerely hoping I am wrong, that this is all orchestrated, coordinated to give a break to those bandits that are in eastern Aleppo," he said.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Louise Ireland and Georgina Prodhan)