WASHINGTON, D.C. — Negotiations between America and Russia over the future of the nearly six-year-old civil war in Syria are on “life support,” says a U.S. State Department spokesman, as the two nations continue to spar over the future of war-ravaged Aleppo, blaming one another for the ongoing chaos and carnage in the city.
The comments from Mark Toner, the spokesman, came two days after the United States threatened to suspend talks with Russia on the civil war in Syria.
Although the United States is currently not conducting any military operations in Aleppo city, that may soon change, according to the U.S. State Department.
“There are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy that the [Obama administration] has discussed and has talked about, and those discussions are ongoing,” John Kirby, a State Department spokesperson, told reporters Wednesday.
“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the third day in a row, but received no sign that Moscow is ready to halt the Syrian regime’s assault on Aleppo,” reports Al Arabiya.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry himself insisted Thursday he was “on the verge” of ending the U.S.-Russian bilateral talks on Syria.
“This is on life support, but it has not flatlined yet,” pointed out Toner the following day.
The spokesman noted that he agreed that “at a certain point” the United States would have to look again “to see if it becomes futile to continue to believe in a diplomatic process. That said, I just can’t definitively say we’re there at that point yet. We’re very close but we’re not there yet.”
His comments came in response to being asked why Kerry believes it is beneficial to keep the lines of communication with Russia open while Kremlin forces and troops loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continue to bomb Aleppo city indiscriminately as they step up up attacks on the ground.
Thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, including members of the Lebanese-based narco-terrorist group Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), joined the Russians and Assad troops for what Reuters described as the “the biggest ground assault yet” against rebels in Aleppo.
“It’s egregious, it’s horrific, it’s in clear violation of international standards or norms, humanitarian norms and international law,” Toner said about the ground attack against rebels in Aleppo.
Currently, the primary focus by Assad and his allies in Syria is Aleppo city, where civilians are under constant bombarding, allegedly from both sides — the Syria, Russia, Iran alliance and rebels that include some who are supported by the United States.
Both countries, Russia fighting on behalf Assad and the United States to some extent against the Syrian regime, have repeatedly accused each other of violating international laws.
Aleppo city was Syria’s biggest city prior to the war, but now it is divided into a western zone held by Assad troops and his allies and a smaller, besieged area held by rebels.
Russia has blamed U.S.-backed rebels of indiscriminately firing into the Assad-controlled part of Aleppo.
While the United States blames the Russian-backed Syrian military and their Iranian counterparts on the ground, of violating the recent ceasefire, Russia maintains that U.S.-backed Syrian rebels are far from innocent and in fact accuses them of initially pulling the trigger and firing the first shot.
On Wednesday, Kirby told a Russia Today (RT) reporter during a press conference:
[Russia] is flying aircraft over Aleppo and bombing hospitals. And it’s not imprecision; it’s specifically targeting civilian infrastructure and innocent people, innocent women and children and first responders that are trying to come to the rescue after these strikes occur. I mean, that’s deliberate, that’s measured, that is absolutely in violation of international law.
According to Russia, the former al Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al Nusra, which recently broke away from the terrorist group and now calls itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFM), is hiding among U.S.-backed rebels.
“Fine, you want to go after terrorists. If you’re going to do what you say you do, then show that you’re going after terrorists, and they [Russia] haven’t done that. There have been times when they have, but they have also, under the pretense of going after terrorist groups – presumably [JFM]– they have hit what are clearly civilian targets,” declared Kirby.
Asked if the U.S. bears some of the blame for the collapse of the ceasefire agreement since it has control of some of the rebels groups in Aleppo who violated the pact, Kirby said:
I think we’ve been nothing but honest about the fact that there have been violations of the ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities on all sides