The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry has made ne­go­ti­at­ing an end to the Syria con­flict one of his main pol­icy ob­jec­tives be­fore the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ends in Jan­uary. So far, his months of ef­fort have failed.

The cease-fire agree­ment he ne­go­ti­ated with Moscow col­lapsed last week. A Rus­sian airstrike hit a U.N. aid con­voy headed for the be­sieged city of Aleppo, scut­tling the halt to hos­til­i­ties that Mr. Kerry had spent months work­ing on. It was the sec­ond failed cease-fire.

On Wed­nes­day, the sec­re­tary spoke to Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov and threat­ened to cut off fur­ther talks on Syria, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial read­out of the call in which Mr. Kerry “ex­pressed grave con­cern” about the civil war in Syria. State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby said Mr. Kerry voiced con­cerns for “continued Rus­sian and Syr­ian regime at­tacks on hos­pi­tals, the wa­ter sup­ply network and other civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture in Aleppo.”

“The sec­re­tary made clear the United States and its part­ners hold Rus­sia re­spon­si­ble for this sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing the use of in­cen­di­ary and bunker buster bombs in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, a dras­tic es­ca­la­tion that puts civil­ians at great risk,” Mr. Kirby said in a state­ment.

The state­ment is fur­ther proof of what crit­ics say are signs the sec­re­tary of state re­mains ig­no­rant or in­ca­pable of un­der­stand­ing Rus­sian goals in Syria, namely keep­ing the regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in power and help­ing him de­feat the ar­ray of anti-gov­ern­ment rebels in­side the coun­try.

Mr. Kerry told Mr. Lavrov “the United States is mak­ing prepa­ra­tions to sus­pend U.S.-Rus­sia bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment on Syria — in­clud­ing on the es­tab­lish­ment of the Joint Im­ple­men­ta­tion Cen­ter — un­less Rus­sia takes im­me­di­ate steps to end the as­sault on Aleppo and re­store the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Kerry de­fended the failed diplo­macy in an in­ter­view with Reuters. “In this busi­ness of diplo­macy, you have to test things some­times,” he said this week. “It is a mis­take to de­lude your­self. It is also a mis­take to avoid putting some­thing to test where there is a rea­son­able chance some­thing may be able to hap­pen.”

Rus­sian Lt. Gen. Vik­tor Poznikhir of the mil­i­tary’s Gen­eral Staff said Wed­nes­day that Rus­sian ex­perts are ready to travel to Geneva to restart con­sul­ta­tions with the U.S. to “search for pos­si­ble ways of nor­mal­iz­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Aleppo” — the be­sieged strong­hold of rebel groups.

But some in the Pen­tagon be­lieve Mr. Kerry is de­lud­ing him­self in seek­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with the Rus­sians, who ap­pear to play­ing Mr. Kerry for the fool and us­ing talks and agree­ments as a tac­tic to limit out­side mil­i­tary sup­port to rebels.

The Pen­tagon re­mains deeply skep­ti­cal of Mr. Kerry’s ap­pease­ment-ori­ented ap­proach to Rus­sia and the Syria con­flict. A se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer told In­side the Ring the diplo­matic ef­fort will have the likely re­sult of lim­it­ing U.S. sup­port for anti-Is­lamic State rebels backed by U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces on the ground in Syria.

That sen­ti­ment was re­flected in the state­ment Mon­day by Sens. John Mc­Cain, chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, and Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, who said diplo­macy with­out other forms of power is a recipe for fail­ure.

“Pres­i­dent Obama’s Syria pol­icy con­tin­ues to of­fer grue­some proof of Ein­stein’s def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity: do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent results,” they said.

“The pat­tern is as sim­ple as it is pre­dictable: A cease-fire is agreed; Rus­sian, Ira­nian and Syr­ian regime forces rest, re­fit and re­de­ploy their forces; the car­nage re­sumes; and the cease-fire col­lapses. What the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion calls a quag­mire, the As­sad regime calls progress.”

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