President Barack Obama has asked for a fresh review of U.S. options toward Syria as peace talks have stalled and suffering intensifies, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Obama “asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist,” Kerry told reporters yesterday in Beijing, the second stop on a three-nation trip to Asia.
“That evaluation by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time,” Kerry said. “And when these options are right and when the president calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them.”
Talks in Geneva between representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and an opposition delegation have stalled over an agenda to end the three-year war that’s killed more than 130,000 people. The government insists on tackling terrorism -- its term for the opposition -- while the rebels want to focus on a transitional government to replace Assad.
Kerry said the review of Syria options is “not a one-time thing,” and White House spokesman Jay Carney disputed the top U.S. diplomat’s suggestion that a new assessment is under way.
Obama is “always looking at options on policy matters like Syria” and “I wouldn’t see this as some new announcement or new consideration,” Carney told reporters in Washington.
Earlier this week, Obama said the U.S. isn’t moving closer to taking military action, an option he withdrew in September in exchange for an agreement engineered by Russia, an Assad ally, for the regime to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal.
While Obama said on Feb. 11 that he reserves the right to use military force, he also said, “Right now we don’t think that there’s a military solution, per se, to the problem.”
Instead, the U.S. is supporting action at the United Nations Security Council, where its Western and Arab allies circulated a draft resolution on Feb. 11 demanding that civilians be allowed to leave besieged areas. It also called on Syrian authorities to allow humanitarian access to people in need across conflict lines and from neighboring countries, particularly Turkey and Iraq.
The draft raised the prospect that the Security Council may introduce economic and military sanctions if the resolution’s demands weren’t met within 15 days of adoption.
Russia, which since March 2011 has three times vetoed resolutions on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, rejected the document as unworkable, and on Feb. 12 introduced its own text, according to a New York-based UN diplomat, who asked not to be identified commenting on sensitive negotiations.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has repeatedly expressed frustration, and on Feb. 13 made her latest bid to the council to do more to help quell the suffering, which has left more than 9.6 million Syrians in need of urgent aid and forced more than 2.4 million to flee their homes.
While the Obama administration “strongly supports” the Feb. 11 draft by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told reporters in New York on Feb. 13 that it’s better to have “no resolution than a bad resolution.”
“Reportedly, nearly 5,000 people have been killed just since the Geneva II talks began,” Power said. “That is the most concentrated period of killing in the entire duration of the conflict -- that’s just in the last three weeks -- so it is not enough for us to stand here and say there has been no progress, which there hasn’t.”
In Geneva, opposition delegate and spokesman Louay Safi and Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said yesterday that the two sides have made no progress in a second round of the peace talks, which began last month under UN mediation.
“It’s no secret -- the negotiations have stumbled,” Safi said at a news conference. He said the government hasn’t responded to a proposal the opposition presented this week about how Syria can transition into democracy.
Mekdad blamed the opposition for coming to the talks with an “unrealistic” agenda.
“I am deeply sorry this round didn’t make any progress,” he said, adding that the government delegation is ready to discuss all topics, including a transitional government, but only after a deal is reached on fighting terrorism.