News / Middle East

    Pentagon: Syria Accord Tests Russia's Will to De-escalate War

    FILE - Syrian government troops fire at Islamic State group positions near Mahin, Syria, Jan. 30, 2016.
    FILE - Syrian government troops fire at Islamic State group positions near Mahin, Syria, Jan. 30, 2016.

    The Pentagon on Tuesday called the cessation-of-hostilities agreement in Syria a “test” for Russia, as potential effects and implementation of the agreement remain uncertain.

    “The test is really — it’s up to the Russians at this point,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters.

    Cook asserted that the U.S. military’s fight remained against Islamic State militants in Syria and would not be affected by the cessation agreement reached last week in Munich.

    He added, however, that the U.S. would be watching to see who does not abide by the agreement and would “respond” and “adjust” if necessary.

    FILE - Smoke rises after shelling by the Syrian army, after Russian airstrikes, in Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015.
    FILE - Smoke rises after shelling by the Syrian army, after Russian airstrikes, in Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015.

    The cessation agreement halts fighting to allow humanitarian aid into besieged areas. The agreement excludes attacks on terrorist groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria. A task force of nations, led by the U.S. and Russia, will determine eligible targets and geographic areas.

    The deal raised concern about whether Russia will actually change its behavior in Syria. The U.S. and rights groups have accused Russia of using cluster munitions that have struck schools and medical facilities in Aleppo and Idlib.

    Russia has blamed the U.S. for those strikes, and the Russian news agency Interfax has quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying Moscow will continue its airstrikes around Aleppo even if a cease-fire agreement in Syria is reached.

    No penalty

    U.S. opponents of the cessation agreement argue that there's no provision of repercussions for those who do not abide by it.

    "It requires opposition groups to stop fighting, but it allows Russia to continue bombing terrorists, which it insists is everyone, even civilians,” U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Sunday at the Munich Security Conference. If Russia or the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "violates this agreement, what are the consequences?" he asked. "I don’t see any."

    The senator blasted the deal as “diplomacy in the service of military aggression,” accusing Russia of using “the denial and delivery of humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip” to lock in the Assad regime’s territorial gains and choose when to resume fighting.

    The cessation agreement had been expected to take effect within a week from last Friday, but the State Department on Tuesday seemed to back away from a timetable.

    "I'm not trying to excuse the delay in any way,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “But we also recognize we need, the parties involved need, a little space in order to at least make the effort."

    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    February 17, 2016 8:26 AM
    Think this cajoles Russia to submission. Russia should understand that when the west begins to talk peace and not continue with aggression and threats either of sanctions or military intervention with NATO, it has run short of ideas and maybe become helpless how further to tackle the Russia use of force. This is when Russia should redouble efforts to defeat both the Arab madness and the western meddle-mania in the region, especially in the new front created by irritating Turkey now starting to bomb not just Kurds who it claimed were militants but also Syrian regime targets.

    All that is distraction, including USA's new approach of cajoling Russia into slowing down its progress in defeating the meddlesome coalition as well as the conglomeration of rebel forces - all of which stand to strengthen terrorism in the region should the regime fail. Libya is just there glaring everybody in the face, how could anybody suggest a replication of Mali, Afghanistan and Iraq in Syria? Which is what USA, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are looking for should Russia succumb to the so-called peace deal for a cease fire in Syria.

    by: baba Voenga from: underground
    February 17, 2016 6:58 AM
    "it’s up to the Russians at this point" ..... "I wash my hands ..." (bloody hands)?
    No, really! Themselves have driven the situation to a hell irreparable state - and in the bushes, and now Russia must do (for you) everything to fix instead of you .
    Will not work you have to hide from your share of responsibility and blame everything on Russia.

    by: Igor from: Russia
    February 17, 2016 2:10 AM
    When the terrorists backed by the West and its dictatorship fathers (Turkey, Saudi Arabia...) is suffering huge losses. The US says it is up to Russia to de-escalate the war??? Do they mean de-escalating the war by letting the terrorists to escape and regroup to prolong the war!!!

    by: Terrence from: California
    February 17, 2016 12:25 AM
    Russia Is like a Disturbed Lying little child. They say one thing, do the opposite, then Deny it. Which leads to the fact they cannot be trusted in any way shape or form. All the combatants in Eukraine that were Russian soldiers without Insignia is a good Example.
    They Shot down a Civilian Air Plane and denied it. America is a fool to even talk to Russia, they are playing us as the Fool.
    I think its time to take the gloves off and play the same game with them. Flood the Internet in Russia with Evidence of Putins Criminality and stealing from the Russian People. We could hack the hell out of that. Putin in Porn, Putin in drugs, Putin's mansion. Play their own disinformation game.

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