Syria civil war: This week could be decisive for US involvement
Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Moscow to discuss international pressure on Syria, following Israel’s targeted airstrikes on Damascus over the weekend.
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“Whatever the US decides to do, it won’t be precipitous action” that somehow brings to an end, he says, a 2-year-old war that has left 76,000 Syrians dead and hardened internal divisions to the breaking point.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Syria's civil war: a Middle East crisis
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An ongoing debate in the administration over whether to intervene – and if so, in what manner – has shifted in recent weeks in favor of some form of intervention, some US officials say. At a Pentagon press conference last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US was in the process of “rethink[ing] all options.”
That shift, prompted in part by evidence that chemical weapons were used in the conflict, could accelerate, they add, if there are signs of a dangerous expansion of the war into a broader conflict.
On Sunday, Israel reportedly struck targets in Syria twice, in one case hitting missiles thought to be destined for Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim organization that is actively aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his fight with largely Sunni rebels. Israel has long said its top concern in the Syrian conflict is the potential for transfer of weaponry to its enemies.
Kerry, who will meet in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, could use the latest events in Syria to try to extract a more cooperative stance from Russia, which continues to shield Mr. Assad from international pressure to step down and make way for a political transition.
The US and Russia joined other international powers last year in calling for a political transition in Syria, but no progress has been made in that direction since then. The US wants to see if Russia is ready to move forward on Syria – both as a result of recent events and given signs that the US is moving closer to intervention in the absence of international diplomatic action, senior administration officials say.
“Events have moved forward on the ground, and so this is a time to talk to the Russians, [for them] to understand that from our side, we remain committed, and if they are as well, then we need to think about how to work operationally to make [a political transition] happen,” says a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Up to now, the US has stopped short of providing Syrian rebels with lethal assistance, in part over concerns that weapons such as shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles could fall into the hands of the radical Islamists among the rebels. But the White House is thought to be leaning toward providing arms under some sort of vetting system.