-- On the eve of his departure to Vienna, Austria, for talks on the future of Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry today evoked a damning image to describe issues facing the team of negotiators from across the Middle East and Europe.
"My friends, the challenge we face in Syria today is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell," Kerry said today in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Kerry also confirmed today that those talks will for the first time include Iran, a country widely considered to be engaged in a proxy war with the United States inside Syria. Other negotiators will include representatives from Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the European Union.
The talks are also complicated by the belief that Russia has opposing interests in Syria. While Russia has claimed its military intervention in Syria is targeting the terror group ISIS, most Western observers have concluded it is there simply to prop up the Syrian regime.
“Contrary to the claims of officials in Moscow, most of those strikes have been directed not against Daesh, but against other opponents of the Assad regime,” Kerry said, using an Arabic term for ISIS. "That is not, in our view, either smart or moral. The likely results will be to further radicalize the population, prolong the fighting, and perhaps strengthen the illusion on Assad’s part that he can maintain indefinitely his hold on power.”
Today on Capitol Hill members of the Obama administration tasked with addressing the Syria crisis warned Russia that its strong military tactics could backfire. Gen. John Allen, the outgoing Special Envoy to Counter ISIS, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is weak and that the Russians are finding he is having trouble taking advantage of their air support.
“What they're discovering relatively quickly is that if they're not part of the political transition, then they're going to be part of the problem, and that problem's going to come home to roost for them.” Allen said today.
Deputy Secretary for Near East Affairs, Anne Patterson, testified alongside Allen today and also suggested Russia’s actions could draw more terrorists and extremists to the fight.
“I think they'll soon find out that the entire Sunni world is against them," Patterson said. “We have heard from many of our Gulf partners that, in terms of jihadis and extremists, they haven't seen anything yet because they'll be drawn into Syria in even greater numbers to fight against the Russians.
“And, of course, the Russians have their own problems with domestic extremism and on their border. So they may find out that this is not such a good deal as they had anticipated.”
The talks in Vienna about could begin Thursday night and are expected to last all day Friday.