(AFP) – LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton stood behind her pledge to create a no-fly zone in Syria Wednesday, but said it would have to be negotiated rather than imposed.
Acknowledging “legitimate concerns” about sparking a conflict with the Syrian regime or its Russian backer, which has advanced weapons systems on the ground, Clinton said talks would be needed.
“I think a no-fly zone could save lives and hasten the end of the conflict,” Clinton said in the final presidential debate of 2016, which took place Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“This would take a lot of negotiation and it would also take making it clear to the Syrians and Russians that our purpose is to provide safe zones on the ground.”
Moscow has shown little sign of voluntarily agreeing to ground its own planes or those of the Syrian regime, raising questions about how Clinton would achieve her goal.
President Barack Obama and top generals have shied away from a policing role in Syria’s skies, a move supporters say would stop indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Aleppo and other cities.
Imposing a no-fly zone of the sort introduced in northern and southern Iraq after the first Gulf War would require neutralizing Syria’s air defense systems.
Russia has deployed the sophisticated S-300 ground-to-air defense system in the war-wracked country, making that prospect much tougher.
Clinton’s rival Donald Trump said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was “much tougher and much smarter than her and Obama.”
“Everyone thought he was going two years ago, three years ago. He aligned with Russia. He now also aligned with Iran, who we made very powerful,” the Republican presidential nominee said.
Echoing Moscow’s position, he criticized Clinton and Obama for calling on Assad to step down.
“If they ever did overthrow Assad, you may very well end up with worse than Assad,” Trump said.