With U.S.-backed peace talks floundering, President Obama is soliciting new policy options for Syria from top aides, American officials said Friday, as the administration also tries to assure delivery of desperately needed humanitarian supplies.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria and the diplomatic impasse in Geneva have given a new sense of urgency to routine policy deliberations over steps U.S. officials can take to defuse the country’s civil war.
“Indeed, [the president] asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist,” Kerry said during a press conference in Beijing.
Obama’s advisers have not yet presented specific new options for consideration, Kerry added. “But that evaluation by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time,” Kerry said. “And when these options are right and when the president calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them.”
At the Pentagon, press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the Defense Department, which has drawn up a range of military options, is being asked to contribute new ideas.
“In general, there’s an interest in coming up with other options in Syria moving forward,” Kirby said. He declined to elaborate on what new ideas are being debated, but noted that military options remain available to the president.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry was not signaling a broad new review of U.S. policy and added that diplomacy remains the focus of American efforts.
“Clearly, diplomacy hasn’t gotten us where we need to be yet,” but remains the right approach, Harf said.
Syrian government and opposition delegates said a second round of peace talks this week in Geneva has stalled. An opposition spokesman said five days of negotiations produced a “dead end,” the Associated Press reported, as Syria’s deputy foreign minister said the opposition had come to the table with an “unrealistic agenda.”
The United States is trying to advance a draft U.N. Security Council resolution urging the Syrian government to allow food and medicine to flow unimpeded to those in need. The resolution, however, would impose no penalties on the Syrian government if it fails to comply.
U.S. officials accuse Russia of blocking serious discussion of consequences for the government of President Bashar al-Assad and of attempting to postpone final consideration of the measure. Some officials believe that Russia wants to avoid the possibility of any international criticism during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“The Syrian people deserve to have the international community stand up and fight for them, since they are not in a position, most of them, to be able to fight for themselves,” Kerry said Friday. “It is important for the Security Council to speak to this. And I underscored today that no country should stand in the way of increased humanitarian access for the Syrian people, and we are going to continue to press for that.”
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called Syria, nearly three years into a civil war, “the worst humanitarian crisis we have seen in a generation.” Power said the Assad government has increasingly resorted to killing and to using forced starvation as a tool of war.
“Given these developments, the Security Council must consider additional ways to improve the humanitarian situation,” she said, but she acknowledged that the body’s power is limited.
“Better no resolution than a bad resolution,” Power said. “We are not interested in a resolution for resolution’s sake. As we intensify our discussions, we have to find text that we think maximizes the likelihood of meaningful consequences on the ground.”
U.S. officials have grown frustrated about the sole Syria policy effort that appeared likely to bear fruit: the agreement to start destroying Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons aboard a U.S. cargo ship. The MV Cape Ray arrived in Spain on Thursday to start the process, but officials said Friday that Damascus has moved slowly in turning over the lethal munitions. Syria has blamed the delay on the deteriorating security situation.
“There are a lot of people here waiting for Syria to do the right thing,” said Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.