“Extremist groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which could include attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities. Russia will continue to send people home in body bags, and will continue to lose resources, perhaps even aircraft,” John Kirby, the State Department’s spokesperson, told reporters at Wednesday’s press briefing.
If the war continues “more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down,” Kirby said.
Early on Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to end all cooperation between the United States and Russia to stop Syria’s civil war, unless Moscow and Damascus ended the current attack on East Aleppo.
“We are working through steps that we might have to take to begin to suspend our engagement with Russia on Syria. We haven’t taken those steps yet,” said Kirby. “The message to the [Russian] Foreign Minister today was that we are perfectly willing and able to move forward on those steps that would end with the suspension of US-Russia bi-lateral engagement in Syria.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presented a different version of the call with Secretary Kerry, with the demand that the US live up to its obligation to separate opposition forces from extremist groups.
The US promised long ago to separate the rebels from terrorists and it needs to live up to that obligation, Lavrov told Kerry, bringing up the recent interview of an Al-Nusra commander about how the group is receiving outside support – including American weapons – as well as the statement of a Syrian opposition leader Riyad Hijab that he did not consider Al-Nusra terrorists.
Foreign Minister Lavrov told Kerry that many US-backed groups are working side by side with the Al-Qaeda affiliate, and brought up media reports that Nusra was receiving weapons from the US.
During the press briefing, Kirby said the US had “influence over some of the [rebel] groups but not all.”
“There are other nations that have influence. We have admitted that not all opposition groups on every single day have abided by it, and we have continued to work with them on that,” Kirby said, asked about the rebels’ violations of the Syrian ceasefire.
The Obama Administration has consistently called for regime change in Syria, and Kirby told reporters on Wednesday“Obviously, we don’t want to see the regime acquire any additional territory” in Aleppo.
In response to the statement that Russia was targeting Nusra Front and terrorists, Kirby said “That’s not what’s happening. They’re hitting hospitals, civilian infrastructure.”
When asked about the US arming Saudi Arabia, Kirby said the State Department had been critical about the “lack of precision in some strikes” in Yemen.
“We have a strong defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is under attack from missiles that are finding their ways to Yemen from Iran,” said Kirby, rejecting any comparison between what was happening in Yemen and what was happening in Syria, as “a ludicrous exercise.”
Explaining why he thought Russia should agree to US demands, Kirby said, “We know that they (Russians) want a measure of cooperation between our two militaries. We know that they want the establishment of a joint implementation center. We want that, too.”
Washington has dragged its feet on setting up the JIC, however, with Kirby telling reporters on September 16 that its establishment was contingent on humanitarian aid reaching Aleppo.
“We don’t have any intention of having an intelligence sharing agreement with the Russians,” GeneralJoseph Dunford,Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers last Tuesday.