PARIS — The United States, France and Russia must step up their coordination in striking the Islamic State in Syria after the Paris terrorist attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, but he insisted that cooperation cannot begin until there is a cease-fire and a political transition.
Mr. Kerry expressed optimism that a shift in Syria could come within weeks now that the United States and more than a dozen other nations, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, have agreed to a framework to end the crisis there.
That will depend, he said, on the ability of Syrian opposition groups to organize and negotiate with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and cooperation from Russia and Iran to ease the transition.
“Now, all we need is the beginning of the political process, and the cease-fire goes in place – that’s a gigantic step,” he said in an interview with reporters who were traveling with him.
Mr. Kerry also met with President François Hollande of France on Tuesday to discuss how to intensify pressure against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or the Arabic acronym Daesh.
“If we can get that done, that opens up the aperture for a whole bunch of things,” Mr. Kerry said of a cease-fire in the four-year civil war. “So we’re weeks away, conceivably, from the possibility of a big transition for Syria.”
The more quickly the political changes occur, he added, “the faster the violence can taper down and we can isolate Daesh and al Nusra, and begin to do what our strategy has always set out to do.”
Although American and Russian forces are sharing limited information in their military campaigns, they are not fully coordinating their efforts against the Islamic State. France is also hitting Islamic State targets in Syria.
United States officials fear that any information they shared with Moscow about American-supported opposition groups would be used by the Russians or Mr. Assad to target them. [U.S. won't share intelligence on the groups it is backing because this would reveal that the West is backing jihadist groups very similar to ISIS; fighters move back and forth between the various Islamist factions based on who is paying top dollar.]
Once the political process is on track, Mr. Kerry said, the United States and Russia could begin to “cooperate on the broader scale, which we can’t do until we have some definition.”
Mr. Kerry’s diplomatic effort faces long odds in the multisided conflict in Syria, which has become a proxy war, and it was not clear whether his ambitious timetable is feasible.
Although the United States has said Mr. Assad must leave office as part of any solution to the conflict in Syria, he has the support of Russia and Iran, and Iran’s deputy foreign minister reiterated that point on Monday.
But Kerry said on Tuesday that it would be impossible to defeat the Islamic State without the departure of Mr. Assad.
“He’s complicit in the rise of Daesh, and therefore, as long as Assad is there, you cannot fully go get rid of this phenomenon,” Mr. Kerry said.In other words, nothing much has changed. Hope has been expressed that the impromptu Putin-Obama powwow at the G20 conference in Turkey might lead to increased coordination between Russia and the U.S. But as of yet we have no real proof of any rapprochement. There is some evidence that the French and Russians are working more closely. According to Foreign Policy's "Situation Report" this morning, French and Russian planes are both bombing Raqqa. This takes coordination I would imagine:
Amid new reports that Russian cruise missiles and long range bombers hit the Syrian city of Raqqa late Monday night, (there’s video of one of the missiles streaking across the Syrian sky), French warplanes also pounded the Islamic State’s capital for the second straight night, launching 10 fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.So while the U.S. is parroting the line that ISIS (and therefore the terror attacks on Paris) is Assad's fault, there is some proof that France is beginning to gravitate to the Russian camp.
Yesterday's "Situation Report" contained an interesting synopsis of the spin on Paris:
Forty-nine Syrian rebel groups issued a joint statement on Friday condemning the attacks "that oppose the heavenly laws and the human values," according to a translation published by SITE Intel Group. The rebel groups asked the international community to align against the Assad regime, which it labeled the source of the Islamic State's persistence.The 49 Syrian rebel groups are chock full of Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom agree wholeheartedly with the Islamic State even if they quibble with the immediate tactics of kamikaze Kalashnikov attacks on rock concerts. These are the rebel groups the U.S. is aligned with, the ones it will be difficult for Kerry to airbrush come time for them to participate in a transition government.
On the other side of the Syrian conflict, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decried the Paris attack, with Putin urging France to join with Russia in forming an international coalition in Syria. Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria alongside Russia and Iran on the side of the Assad regime, also issued a statement, referencing the recent attacks against a Shiite neighborhood in Beirut by the Islamic State.