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US. State department suspends bilateral channels with Russia over Syria

Obama administration abandons efforts to cooperate with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war

October 3

0:00
2016

Washington, D.C. , United States of America - 3 Oct 2016 -

U.S.-Russia relations fell to a new post-Cold War low Monday as the Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war and forming a common front against terrorists there, and Moscow suspended a landmark nuclear agreement.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the United States was prepared to cease cooperating with Moscow on the ceasefire in Syria. Today, Secretary of State John Kerry carried out his threat and has “suspended” bilateral contacts with Moscow over the Syrian crisis. Russian Foreign Ministry said it was "disappointed" by the decision and accused the US of seeking to shift blame for its own failure in Syria.

US officials had threatened for a week to withdraw from the Syrian peace process, after the latest ceasefire negotiated by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed amid bloody fighting.

The United States, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation.”

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters Monday afternoon, claiming that Russia had not lived up to its obligations under the ceasefire agreement. Asked if the US fulfilled its own obligation to separate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists, Trudeau replied,

“We believe we did.” “We had detailed negotiations with the opposition, emphasizing the importance of ‘demarbleizing’ [sic] from Al-Nusra,”

Trudeau said, clarifying Washington’s official stance that “Nusra is Al-Qaeda, they are a terrorist organization.” RT’s Gayane Chichakyan reminded Trudeau that several major rebel groups refused outright to abide by the ceasefire. “We expected good faith efforts, not only from rebel groups on the ground… but also Russia,” Trudeau replied. “If attacked, opposition groups have the right to defend themselves.”

Instead, after just a few days of a fitful truce, both Syria and Russia stepped up their bombing attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in the country, including the destruction of an aid convoy. Russia, while denying the convoy attack, has justified its airstrikes by saying that the cease-fire — along with U.S. failure to disengage the opposition from the Front for the Conquest of Syria, the al-Qaeda group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra — allowed the terrorists to rearm and expand their territory.

Despite Moscow's military engagement in the war alongside Assad's government, Washington had been working with its former Cold War foe in hopes of securing a cease-fire and a peace process. The latest effort collapsed last week after several days of reduced violence, but the U.S. and Russia have been discussing ways to revive it. The Obama administration had hoped the promise of the new U.S.-Russian alliance against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliates would be enough to get Moscow to ground Assad's forces. Current coordination to ensure U.S. and Russian planes stay out of each other's way will continue no matter what, the Pentagon said. The U.S. and its coalition partners are flying missions in Syria against IS; the U.S. also has a small contingent of special forces on the ground.

Kerry's threat aside, the U.S. has few other options beyond engaging Moscow to end the fighting between Assad's forces and rebels.

In 2009, after three months of close collaboration, the United States and Russia worked hard to “reset” U.S.-Russia relations and laid out an ambitious, substantive work plan for moving forward in a number of areas where the United States and Russia share national interests: from reducing our nuclear arsenals, preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons, and countering the threat of nuclear terrorism to overcoming the effects of the global economic crisis and developing clean energy technologies. Recognizing that a fresh start to U.S.-Russia relations needs to be more than just warm words, the two presidents committed to deliver results. The achievements of the Moscow Summit was intended to help put an end to a period of dangerous drift in U.S. - Russia relations by increasing cooperation on a range of issues that are fundamental to the security and the prosperity of both countries.

Both sides must calm down

Like the stock market crashes that periodically wipe out so many fortunes, military crises are hard to predict. Washington’s track record as a seer of future threats is remarkably poor. From the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the 1940s to North Korea’s invasion of the South in the 1950s to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s to the collapse of South Vietnam in the 1970s to the breakup of the Soviet empire in the 1980s to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s to the 9-11 attacks and rise of ISIS in the new millennium, America’s policy elite never seems to see looming danger until it is too late.

So don’t be surprised if the economic sanctions Washington has led the West in imposing on Russia look like a bad idea a year from now. At the moment, a combination of sanctions and plummeting oil prices seems to be dealing the government of President Vladimir Putin a heavy blow — just retribution, many say, for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea last year. But as Alan Cullison observed in the Wall Street Journal this week, sanctions sometimes provoke precisely the opposite response from what policymakers hope. In Russia’s case, that could mean a threat to America’s survival. Let’s briefly consider how Russia’s current circumstances could lead to dangers that dwarf the challenges posed by ISIS and cyber attacks.

But in a series of internal meetings over the past week, the administration has found no alternative that has not already been considered, and previously discarded as unworkable or too risky in terms of broadening the Syrian conflict. President Obama is said to be no more willing to involve U.S. forces, air or ground, in the conflict than he was when it began five years ago. The prospect of flooding the opposition with more, and better, arms is still seen as hazardous.

The biggest concern is that some new move by Russia along its borders degenerates into a crisis where Moscow thinks it can improve its tactical situation by threatening local use of nuclear weapons, and then the crisis escalates. At that point U.S. policymakers would have to face the reality that (1) they are unwilling to fight Russia to protect places like Ukraine, and (2) they have no real defenses of the American homeland against a sizable nuclear attack. In other words, the only reason Washington seems to have the upper hand right now is because it assumes leaders in Moscow will act “rationally.”

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