Leading US diplomats defend Obama over policy to defeat Isil in Syria
Two top US diplomats yesterday defended US President Barack Obama's policy to defeat Isil militants in Syria in the wake of Russian intervention that both said has dangerously destabilised the battlefield.
The two answered criticism from both Democratic and Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who claimed the current US policy is too limited.
The hearing follows the White House's announcement last week that it was deploying as many as 50 special operations forces to Syria, and Secretary of State John Kerry's recent meetings in Vienna to chart a political transition to end the conflict, which has killed 225,000 Syrians and caused more than four million to become refugees.
"Russia's military intervention has dangerously exacerbated an already complex environment," said Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.
"Moscow has cynically tried to claim that its (airstrikes) are focused on terrorists, but so far, 85 to 90pc of Syrian strikes have hit the moderate Syrian opposition and they have killed civilians in the process... We know that Russia's primary intent is to preserve the regime.
"So far, then, this has not been a Russian fight against terrorism so much as an effort to preserve the Assad regime," she said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Ms Patterson said that so far, US diplomatic efforts have not led to any agreement on the fate of Assad.
Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said Mr Kerry is hoping that if the US and others can "rope" Russia into the diplomatic effort, it will lead Moscow to seek a peaceful solution different to the military intervention it is engaged in today.
Ms Nuland said Russia is spending $2m to $4m (€1.8m to €3.7m) a day on its air campaign in Syria at a time when Russians are hurting from an economic downturn.
Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the committee, called Mr Obama's policy "tepid" and "very ineffectual."