WASHINGTON The United States and Russia have not reached a ceasefire deal for Syria, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, saying it could not confirm Moscow's announcement that the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers would meet in Geneva on Thursday.
"We're not there yet," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke for 45 minutes.
"The secretary remains committed to continuing efforts to try and resolve the outstanding issues in order to reach an arrangement on Syria ... but we won't agree to an arrangement that does not meet our core objectives," Toner said.
"We have not been able to reach a clear understanding on a way forward," Toner added. "I can't say there is a big hope for success, we're just continuing to work at it."
Kerry and Lavrov have met twice in two weeks but have fallen short on reaching a broad understanding on how to proceed. The United States accused Russia last week after talks on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit in Hangzhou, China, of pulling back on issues that Washington thought had been resolved.
Speaking in Hangzhou, U.S. President Barack Obama said efforts to broker an agreement were complicated by "gaps of trust" between Washington and Moscow, which back opposite sides in the five-year Syrian war.
Russian and American experts have worked since July to figure out ways to halt the violence in areas where moderate opposition groups, backed by the United States and Middle East allies, and Russian-backed Syrian government forces have been battling each other.
Those efforts were complicated by a significant offensive in the southern part of the divided city of Aleppo where al-Qaeda- linked groups had become more intermingled with opposition fighters. Russia is insisting that opposition forces be separated from al-Qaeda-linked militants in Aleppo.
Washington wants Syria's air force grounded, leaving air strikes to U.S. and Russian jets that would focus on targeting Islamic State and other militant groups. An agreement hinges on Russia using its influence over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown)