Seeking new options to resolve Syria

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Amid concerns that the current policy in Syria is failing, U.S. officials are developing new options to bring about an end to the three-year civil war, according to a Pentagon official. 

“There’s an interest in coming up with other options moving forward in Syria,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, stressing that options would be “interagency,” and not just involving the Pentagon. 

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“I wouldn’t speculate right now about any specific options that might be coming from the Pentagon or from the military,” he said. 

His remarks came after Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Beijing President Obama was deeply concerned that peace talks in Geneva were not producing the results they were supposed to and has asked top officials to think about various options that “may or may not exist.” 

Kerry said the evaluation was currently taking place, and options would be presented to the president when they are asked for. 

“It is clear that the crisis of Syria is growing, not diminishing,” Kerry said. “This is grotesque. And the world needs to take note and figure out what the appropriate response is.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney played down Kerry’s remarks, saying they should not be interpreted as a “new announcement or new consideration.” 

Kirby also pointed to existing military options on the table — air and naval assets in the Mediterranean that include fighter jets and Patriot missile batteries in Turkey and Jordan, as well as destroyers off the coast of Syria. 

However, there are only two destroyers currently in the eastern Mediterranean, down from five destroyers and a carrier in the Red Sea in the fall, when the U.S. had threatened to strike Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,000 Syrians. 

Officials say two destroyers provide enough combat capability, and more assets could always be directed to the region if necessary. 

A third destroyer arrived in the region last week, to be based at Rota, Spain, but it is primarily for European missile defense. 

Kirby said an interagency discussion has not yet started, but there is an interest in a “broad range of options.”

“I would expect that those options would be across the spectrum of national power, not simply military. And again, those military options remain available to the president, should he need them,” Kirby said. 

Meanwhile, a top Turkish official said peace talks in Geneva to end the Syrian crisis would most likely fail, and the U.S. needs to pursue other options with Russia. 

“It won’t create the expected strong results, it looks like,” said Ambassador Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee, during a visit to Washington on Friday. 

The only way the war will end will be if the U.S. can work together with Russia, Syria’s primary backer, he said.  

The U.S. needs to convince Russia, which has a naval base in Syria, that supporting Assad is no longer in the country’s interest, especially if he falls or loses control of the entire country, Bozkir said. 

“Part of Syria is now like Afghanistan — all the terrorist groups found a haven there to train, practice, show they are still existing, show they can still do things,” Bozkir said. 

“I think a political solution could be reached showing Russia that ‘This is not moving towards your interest. If it goes on like this, you might not be able to preserve the interest you have,’ ” he said. 

Bozkir added, however, U.S. diplomats have their hands tied, since they are already committed to peace talks in Geneva, and Russia is using the talks as a stalling tactic.