Moscow: The Kremlin has strongly warned Washington against striking Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s forces, saying it would fuel turmoil across the entire region.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that an attempt to topple Al Assad’s government “wouldn’t help a successful fight against terrorism and could plunge the region into total chaos.”
Peskov made the statement while asked to comment about an internal document in which dozens of US State Department employees called for military action against Al Assad’s forces.
President Barack Obama called for regime change in Syria early on in the five-year conflict, but so far has only authorised strikes against Daesh and other US-designated terror groups in Syria.
Russia has conducted an air campaign in Syria since last September, helping Al Assad’s forces regain some ground.
Dozens of US State Department employees endorsed an internal document that advocates US military action to pressure Syria’s government into accepting a cease-fire and engaging in peace talks, officials said Thursday. The position is at odds with US policy.
The “dissent channel cable” was signed by about 50 mostly mid-level department officials who deal with US policy in Syria, according to officials who have seen the document. It expresses clear frustration with America’s inability to halt a civil war that has killed perhaps a half-million people and contributed to a worldwide refugee crisis, and goes to the heart of President Barack Obama’s reluctance to enter the fray.
Obama called for regime change early on in the conflict and threatened military strikes against Syrian forces after blaming President Bashar Al Assad for using chemical weapons in 2013. But Obama only has authorised strikes against Daesh and other US-designated terror groups in Syria.
While Washington has provided military assistance to some anti-Al Assad rebels, it has favored diplomacy over armed intervention as a means of ushering Syria’s leader out of power. A series of partial cease-fires in recent months have only made the war slightly less deadly, and offered little hope of a peace settlement.
The dissent document was transmitted internally in a confidential form and since has been classified, said officials who weren’t authorised to discuss such material and insisted on anonymity. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both quoted from the document Thursday, saying they had seen or obtained copies.
The Journal said the document called for “targeted air strikes.” The Times quoted a section urging a “judicious use of stand-off and air weapons” to advance the US diplomatic effort led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable,” the Times quoted the document as saying. “The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the department was reviewing the cable, which arrived via a “vehicle in place to allow State Department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues.”
Some sentiments expressed in the cable mirror arguments Kerry has made in internal administration debates. Kerry, a forceful advocate of Obama’s initial plan to launch airstrikes after Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons, reversed course after the president opted against them. He has complained privately that White House resistance to more intervention has hurt efforts to persuade Russia, in particular, to take a tougher tone with Al Assad.
Kerry, speaking to reporters in Copenhagen Friday, said “I haven’t had a chance to see it yet (the cable) but I agree with the process. But it’s a great process. It gives people a chance to express their views.”
“I think it’s an important statement,” he said, “and I respect the process very, very much.”
While defending the administration’s overall approach to Syria, Kerry has on more than one occasion told associates and colleagues that he doesn’t have “a lot of arrows in his quiver” when he tries to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to put more pressure on Al Assad to comply with the truce, allow more humanitarian aid deliveries or begin negotiations on a genuine political transition.