STATE DEPARTMENT —
Syria and Russia say the international coalition against the Islamic State would be more effective if it included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But, the Obama administration is determined to keep its fight against Damascus separate from the battle against the Islamic State.
In airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, U.S. officials say they are giving Damascus no advance notice of timing or targets while continuing to warn Syrian forces not to engage coalition aircraft.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem says it would be easier to stop the Islamic State -- which is also known as ISIS or ISIL -- if Syria itself were invited to join the coalition.
"Is it not due time, ladies and gentlemen, for all of us to stand as one in the face of this serious menace of terrorist ideology worldwide? Has not the moment of truth arrived for us all to admit that ISIS, al-Nusrah Front and the rest of al-Qaeda affiliations will not be limited within the borders of Syria and Iraq but will spread to every spot it can reach, starting with Europe and America,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says keeping Syria out of the coalition is both illegal and counterproductive.
“Excluding Syrian authorities from the effort that has taken place on their territory not only goes against international law but undermines the efficiency of the effort,” he said.
So why not include Bashar al-Assad in the fight against the Islamic State?
Because the Syrian president himself is part of the problem, says State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“The Assad regime continues to indiscriminately use barrel bombs and bombard their own people," she said. "There are reports of women and children waiting in line for bread and they’re striking areas where they are standing around. So this is -- there’s a distinct difference between our approach to taking on ISIL and their military efforts.”
There are also coalition allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia who are determined to bring down the government in Damascus and worry that action against the Islamic State takes some pressure off Assad forces.
But the longer airstrikes continue, the greater the likelihood of some on-the-ground coordination with Syria’s government, says American University professor Akbar Ahmed.
"The ball, then, rests with President [Barack] Obama. He's got to make the decision. Is he prepared to talk to Assad or have some dealings with Assad in order to have a joint front against the Islamic State? Again, the question is to weigh the two evils and decide on one," he said.
A decision that Ahmed believes ultimately favors Assad.
"I think it will be a travesty. But in the world of realpolitik, in the world of this murky fog that the Middle East is now enveloped in, I think this may be something that we will be seeing," he said.
For now, coalition partners say they need not coordinate with Syrian government forces because the territory they are attacking, including areas along the Turkish border, are not controlled by Damascus.