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US, Britain concede support is weak for military action in Syria

Originally published October 16, 2016 at 5:14 p.m., updated October 16, 2016 at 5:12 p.m.

Associated Press


The United States and Britain on Sunday acknowledged the Western world’s weak support for any military action against Syria’s government as they sought ways to pressure President Bashar Assad and his chief backer, Russia, to halt a deadly offensive in Aleppo. They tried to present it as a possibility, nevertheless.

After a meeting of 11 governments opposing Assad’s rule, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson each insisted all options were on the table. But their stark explanations about the danger of resorting to military force appeared to rule out such a move.

The result was a somewhat schizophrenic threat that was unlikely to scare Assad’s government or Russia as they move to crush the last rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

“When a great power is involved in a fight like this, as Russia has chosen to be by going there and then putting its missiles in place in order to threaten people against military action, it raises the stakes of confrontation,” Kerry said after the meeting in London.

He said no one should be “lighting a fire” under a larger sectarian war in the Middle East or one drawing in superpowers against one another.

Johnson said Britain wanted to “ratchet up” pressure on Assad, Russia and Iran.

“No option is, in principle, off the table,” he told reporters.

Quickly expanding his answer, he added: “Be in no doubt that these so-called military options are extremely difficult and there is, to put it mildly, a lack of political appetite in most European capitals and certainly in the West for that kind of solution at present.”

“So we’ve got to work with the tools we have,” he said. “The tools we have are diplomatic.”

The gathering in London came amid mounting international frustration with the 5 1/2 year conflict, which has killed as many as a half-million people, sparked Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and enabled Islamic State militants to emerge as a global terror threat.