Russia warns US against targeting Syria’s Assad




Russia warns US against targeting Syria’s Assad

By Rebecca Kheel
The Hill

Russia is warning the United States against targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad after a report that U.S. diplomats are urging the Obama administration to do just that.

Toppling Assad “wouldn’t help a successful fight against terrorism and could plunge the region into total chaos,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Russia is one of Assad’s few international backers and has been conducting airstrikes against rebels in Syria since September.

Late Thursday, The New York Times reported on an internal memo that 51 State Department diplomats have signed urging the United States to conduct military strikes against Assad’s government.

To respond to Assad’s repeated violations of a ceasefire, the diplomats called for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

Without a U.S. response to the ceasefire violations, the diplomats wrote, Assad will have no incentive to negotiate an end to the 5-year-old civil war.

Such a move would be a radical change in policy for President Obama, who has focused U.S. military operations in the country on targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The diplomats acknowledged that military action could enflame already shaky relations with Russia but said they are not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation,” according to the Times.

In addition to Peskov’s warning about targeting Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that drafting a new constitution and holding new elections are the way to end the Syrian crisis. Assad has pledged to help, Putin added.

“There is nothing more democratic than elections,” he said at a Russian economic forum, according to the AP.

In the process Putin described, the opposition would work with the existing government.