Defense

Pentagon: ‘Not all terms’ of Syrian cease-fire being met

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The progress of a seven-day cease-fire in Syria is unclear, after both the State Department and Pentagon said Thursday the terms of a U.S.-Russian agreement are not yet being fully met. 

Specifically, both departments said humanitarian aid was not yet being delivered according to the terms agreed to on Saturday by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. 

{mosads}”We are certainly aware that not all the terms here, including most specifically the delivery of humanitarian assistance, have been met at this part moment in time,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters. 

Officials assess that the temporary cease-fire is “largely holding,” but at the same time, have declined to say what day of the seven-day cease-fire — which began on Monday — it is at this point. 

“I’m not going to get into clocks, and discussions of that,” said Cook. 

At the State Department, Deputy press secretary Mark Toner said, “I’m not going to put a — or say we’re at day two or at day three on this.”

The agreement calls for a seven-day temporary cease-fire, after which the U.S. and Russian militaries would set up a “Joint Implementation Center” and begin cooperating in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda militants. 

The U.S.’s hope is to stop Russian and Syrian bombing of opposition rebels, and begin political negotiations to end Syria’s civil war, which has been raging for more than five years.

However, the Pentagon has been wary of Russian intentions since its entrance into the Syrian war in September 2015. While Moscow has claimed it is hitting ISIS, it has mostly struck opposition rebels, including those backed by the U.S. 

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Defense Secretary Ash Carter opposed the deal during a White House conference call last week, and a string of military officials since the deal was announced have cast doubt over whether military cooperation with Russia could begin. 

Officials at the State and Defense Departments have since tried to play down that opposition. 

“He absolutely supports Secretary Kerry’s efforts to reduce the violence here,” Cook said.

But Cook said before any military cooperation would begin, there would need to be a “sustained period of a reduction in violence … and we haven’t seen that yet.” 

The Pentagon still does not have answers to basic questions, such as to whether it would need a waiver on the suspension of the U.S.-Russia military relationship implemented since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. 

“These are questions that we’re, of course, as part of our due diligence, we’re going through ourselves,” Cook said. “I think … we’re putting the cart before the horse. We’re not there yet.”  

Cook said the Pentagon would be ready to carry out its role if it is determined that the deal terms have been met, and that the Pentagon would have a say in deciding whether the terms have been met. 

But exactly what metrics will be used to judge compliance is unclear. 

“What I can say is that it continues to be our assessment, and I think Russia’s assessment as well, although Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Lavrov haven’t spoken yet today — but it continues to be our assessment that this is worth pursuing. It’s worth continuing,” Toner said. 

“We’ve seen a significant reduction in violence. But we need to see the humanitarian effort access begin to take hold,” he added. “If we get to seven days, then we can — then we can move forward with the JIC,” he said.

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