U.S., U.K.: Sup­port weak for mil­i­tary ac­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bradley Klap­per

LON­DON >> The United States and Bri­tain on Sun­day ac­knowl­edged the West­ern world’s weak sup­port for any mil­i­tary ac­tion against Syria’s gov­ern­ment as they sought ways to pres­sure Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and his chief backer, Rus­sia, to halt a deadly of­fen­sive in Aleppo. They tried to present it as a pos­si­bil­ity, nev­er­the­less.

After a meet­ing of 11 gov­ern­ments op­pos­ing As­sad’s rule, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son each in­sisted all op­tions were on the ta­ble. But their stark ex­pla­na­tions about the dan­ger of re­sort­ing to mil­i­tary force ap­peared to rule out such a move.

The re­sult was a some­what schiz­o­phrenic threat that was un­likely to scare As­sad’s gov­ern­ment or Rus­sia as they move to crush the last rebel-held ar­eas of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

“When a great power is in­volved in a fight like this, as Rus­sia has cho­sen to be by go­ing there and then putting its mis­siles in place in or­der to threaten peo­ple against mil­i­tary ac­tion, it raises the stakes of con­fronta­tion,” Kerry said after the meet­ing in Lon­don.

He said no one should be “light­ing a fire” un­der a larger sec­tar­ian war in the Mid­dle East or one draw­ing in su­per­pow­ers against one another.

John­son said Bri­tain wanted to “ratchet up” pres­sure on As­sad, Rus­sia and Iran.

“No op­tion is, in prin­ci­ple, off the ta­ble,” he told re­porters.

Quickly ex­pand­ing his an­swer, he added: “Be in no doubt that these so-called mil­i­tary op­tions are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and there is, to put it mildly, a lack of po­lit­i­cal ap­petite in most Euro­pean cap­i­tals and cer­tainly in the West for that kind of so­lu­tion at present.”

“So we’ve got to work with the tools we have,” he said. “The tools we have are diplo­matic.”

The gath­er­ing in Lon­don came amid mount­ing in­ter­na­tional frus­tra­tion with the 5½ year con­flict, which has killed as many as a halfmil­lion peo­ple, sparked Europe’s worst refugee cri­sis since World War II and en­abled Is­lamic State mil­i­tants to emerge as a global ter­ror threat.

Kerry on Satur­day launched a new diplo­matic process with what he de­scribed as the ma­jor in­ter­na­tional play­ers in the war — the U.S., Rus­sia, Saudi Ara­bia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Jor­dan, Iraq and Egypt. The re­newed ef­fort re­places last month’s U.S.-Rus­sian cease-fire, which col­lapsed within days, and Wash­ing­ton’s now-aban­doned talks with Moscow on a mil­i­tary part­ner­ship against the Is­lamic State group and alQaida mil­i­tants.

Sun­day’s gath­er­ing in­cluded Amer­ica’s Arab al­lies from the meet­ing a day ear­lier along with Euro­pean coun­tries that were left out. Not ev­ery­one sounded con­vinced about Kerry’s ef­fort.

“There is no step for­ward for a cease-fire,” French For­eign Min­is­ter JeanMarc Ayrault said.

Even the U.S. has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the chances for a diplo­matic agree­ment with As­sad’s mil­i­tary sup­port­ers, Rus­sia and Iran.

But Pres­i­dent Barack Obama doesn’t seem likely to ap­prove an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion be­fore leav­ing of­fice. He has con­sis­tently re­jected such ac­tion against As­sad, in­clud­ing three years ago when the Syr­ian leader crossed Obama’s “red line” by us­ing chem­i­cal weapons.

Kerry tried to keep the threat alive Sun­day.

“Let me make it clear,” he said. “Pres­i­dent Obama has not taken any op­tions off the ta­ble at this point in time. So we’ll see where we are in the next few days in the con­text of the dis­cus­sions we’re hav­ing.”

Just a mo­ment ear­lier, how­ever, Kerry im­plied the op­po­site.

He em­pha­sized that the U.S. and its part­ners must ex­haust diplo­matic pos­si­bil­i­ties, even if the sit­u­a­tion in Syria be­comes more dire. “Now, some peo­ple ask what hap­pens to Aleppo if it were to fall,” Kerry said. “Well, the Rus­sians should un­der­stand, and As­sad needs to un­der­stand, that that does not end the war. This war can­not end with­out a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.

“So even if Aleppo were to fall, even if they have ut­terly de­stroyed it, which they are do­ing, that will not change the fun­da­men­tal equa­tion in this war be­cause other coun­tries will con­tinue to sup­port op­po­si­tion, and they will con­tinue to cre­ate more ter­ror­ists and Syria will be the vic­tim in the end, as well as the re­gion.”

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