United States Close to Suspending Talks with Russia Over Syria

by Esther Yu Hsi Lee –

“We are on the verge of suspending the discussion.”

aleppo

The United States is “on the verge” of suspending talks with Russia following a series of deadly attacks in Aleppo that most recently struck two hospitals and killed hundreds of people, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.

The United States has “no notion or indication of [Russia’s] seriousness of purpose,” Kerry said in a discussion with The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Steve Clemons in a Washington Ideas Forum event. The Secretary of State said that the bombing of Aleppo was an “inexcusable” situation that is “beyond the pale” and requires a political solution.

“We are on the verge of suspending the discussion [with Russia] because it’s irrational in the context in the kind of bombing taking place to be sitting there and trying to take things seriously,” Kerry said. “There’s no notion or indication of the seriousness of purpose with what is taking place right now.”

Kerry added that the United States would look to “pull back” its cooperation with Russia to avoid a situation that “is empowering them to do what they’re doing.”

“It’s one of those moments where we’re going to have to pursue other alternatives for a period of time, barring some clearer indication by warring parties that they’re prepared to consider approaching this more effectively,” he said.

Hours before the Secretary of State’s comments at the forum, the Russian government indicated that it had no plans to stop aerial strikes in Syria, following Kerry’s previous remarks that the United States would not take part in joint military actions unless both Russian and Syrian governments stopped bombing Aleppo, a rebel-held city being fought over by the Syrian government and rebel forces.

Aleppo has been at the heart of a humanitarian crisis in which two million people have inadequate access to critical supplies, according to Refugees International. Conditions in Aleppo — especially in the rebel-controlled east, where approximately 275,000 people are trapped— are so bad that there are an estimated 35 doctors left, with a limited supply of medicine to treat the remaining citizens, hundreds of whom have been wounded in the military attacks, the United Nations deputy special envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramz said.

“We have more than once suggested 48-hour pauses in order to ensure humanitarian access,” Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, said in response to Kerry’s previous warning. “But our American colleagues are totally fixated on demands of a seven-day pause for reasons that only they know.”

About 430,000 people are believed to have died during Syria’s six-year civil war, which has become a big push factor for the migration crisis in the European Union. The United States supports some rebel groups and has indicated that it would only fight ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad considers all rebel fighters and groups to be terrorists. One aspect of an agreement between the United States and Russia is to attack only territories held by the Nusra Front (now known as Jabhat Fateh ash-Sham).

Kerry’s condemnation comes at a time when talks for a ceasefire have most recently faded after the United States conducted an airstrike that killed up to 90 Syrian Army soldiers in an “accident” nearly two weeks ago. But Russian and Syrian airforces have violated ceasefire agreements and intentionally targeted civilians before in spite of dire warnings from the United States. The international human rights organization Amnesty International released a report in March that claimed that both the Russian and Syrian governments have “deliberately” attacked medical facilities, centers, and clinics in Aleppo. And United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently criticized Assad for facilitating the deaths of Syrian civilians in violation of international law.

“Many groups have killed innocent civilians, none more so than the government of Syria, which continues to barrel bomb neighbourhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees,” Ban said last week. “Just when you think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower.”

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress