Kerry Calls for Limiting Warplane Flights Over Syria
By Margaret Besheer 21 September 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said if a cease-fire deal in Syria is to be salvaged, warplanes must stop flying over key parts of the country.
"So I believe that to restore credibility to the process, we must move forward to try to immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to deescalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded," Kerry told a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council. "And if that happens, there is a chance of giving credibility back to this process."
He said such a ban would "prevent Syria from doing what it has done so often in the past, which is to attack civilian targets with the excuse that it is just going after Nusra."
Nusra and the so-called Islamic State are the two terrorist groups excluded from the truce – and the U.S. and Russia are supposed to be cooperating with one another to defeat them.
Kerry said he wanted to emphasize to Russia that Washington still supports finding a diplomatic solution.
"The United States continues to believe there is a way forward, that although rocky, difficult and uncertain, can provide the most viable path out of the carnage," he said.
Kerry added that those who believe the crisis in Syria cannot get any worse are "dead wrong," and that while the cease-fire plan forged nearly two weeks ago in Geneva between Russia and the U.S. is imperfect, there has not been any alternative that is "remotely realistic that will lead to a better outcome."
The U.S. envoy also took aim at his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, saying he sometimes feels that Lavrov is in a "parallel universe" when it comes to the facts on the ground in Syria.
Kerry said that while Washington admitted Saturday it accidentally hit Syrian military personnel, killing and injuring dozens, Russia has changed its story repeatedly about an attack Monday on an aid convoy that resulted in 20 deaths – ultimately saying it simply had caught fire. Eyewitnesses said the aid convoy was hit by some 20 missiles, likely from either warplanes or helicopters.
"The trucks, and the food, and the medicine, just spontaneously combusted," Kerry said in anger and disbelief. "This is not a joke; we are in serious business here. If we can stand up and say, 'yes, accidentally we had a strike, we should have some responsibility,'" he added.
Following the Security Council meeting, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters that although it is too early to make conclusive judgments over who was responsible, "only two forces [are] capable of having carried out that strike, flying in that area. They are the Syrians and the Russias, and we have our doubts about the Syrian capability to fly at night. So you are left with a pretty strong conclusion."
Lavrov spoke before Kerry, saying that ensuring the safety of aid workers is the responsibility of all actors in Syria, not just the Assad regime and Russia.
He said members of the International Support Group for Syria (ISSG) must use their influence on groups on the ground to enforce the cessation of hostilities, noting that several armed groups had violated the deal more than 300 times.
"We have always put as a top priority resumption of the intra-Syrian political dialogue without preconditions," said Lavrov. "Attempts by some participants to put forward preconditions or ultimatums or to sabotage [Security Council] resolution 2254 are unacceptable."
That resolution lays out the road map to a political transition in Syria.
Lavrov said the U.N. envoy should not be 'blackmailed' by these spoilers.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke at the meeting, emphasizing the world is at a "make or break moment" in Syria.
"We must remain determined that the cease-fire will be revived," he said.
Ban noted that "well over 300,000 Syrians" have been killed in the nearly six-year long conflict.
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