(CNSNews.com) – Syria’s foreign minister said Sunday that any foreign intervention against terrorists inside the country should be coordinated with the Assad regime – or would contravene the principles of the U.N. Charter.
Walid al-Moallem pointed to the involvement of Russia, Iran, and the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. All three are acting in coordination with the Syrian government.
By contrast, the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) coalition does not have the regime’s permission to be involved in Syria – something which Russia in particular has been emphasizing as it justifies its own month-old military intervention.
Moallem was speaking two days after the Obama administration announced plans to deploy up to 50 Special Forces troops in northern Syria, to help what it calls “moderate opposition forces” in their fight against ISIS jihadists.
The deployment marks a significant ratcheting up of a mission which the administration continues to insist does not constitute “combat.” Congress has not voted on an authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS in Syria; the administration said at the outset the president could rely on the post-9/11 AUMF in 2001, a point reiterated by White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday.
In response to the announcement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow views as unacceptable the use of U.S. forces inside Syria without coordination with the regime.
The comments by the Syrian minister, Moallem, came during a meeting with the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Stafan De Mistura, who was reporting back to Damascus the outcome of discussions in Vienna Friday among 17 foreign ministers seeking a political resolution of the costly civil war.
At the end of those talks Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in reference to the U.S. Special Forces announcement, said Moscow’s position remains that counter-terror operations, whether from the air or on the ground, “need to be conducted in agreement with the government or with the U.N. Security Council.”
Lavrov, who was speaking alongside Secretary of State John Kerry, also said the new development made it even more important that the U.S. and Russian militaries coordinate their activities.
Unconvinced that Russia’s airstrikes are genuinely designed to counter ISIS, the U.S. has refused to coordinate, beyond basic “deconfliction” measures to avoid any incidents in Syrian airspace.
The U.S. does recognize the legitimacy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has not sought his regime’s approval for a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, launched more than a year ago.
At the daily White House briefing on Friday, Earnest drew a distinction between U.S. military operations in Iraq, where it is supporting the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government and its security forces against ISIS, and in Syria.
“The situation in Syria is quite different. The United States and our coalition partners do not have a central government with whom we can partner,” he said. “The Assad regime has lost legitimacy to lead that country for a variety of reasons.”
Asked about the legality of putting troops on the ground inside a country that has not given its consent, Earnest said the U.S. and its coalition partners were “responding to a specific request from Iraq and the concerns that they have expressed about ISIL incursions into their country.”
The threat ISIS posed to Iraq had emanated from Syria, he said, but that country’s government has been unable or unwilling to take the necessary action against the terrorist group.
As for Russian criticism of an expanding U.S. role, Earnest said it was “an ironic argument for the Russians, who have committed such much military equipment and personnel on the ground in Syria to make the suggestion that the United States should refrain from doing so.”
“It’s particular ironic when Russian claims to be doing that to fight ISIL when in fact we know their operations are focused in those areas where ISIL forces are not present, or at least not frequently present,” he added. “We know the Russian military presence there is geared towards propping up the Assad regime.”
Russian Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov of the armed forces general staff said at the weekend Russian aircraft over the past month have carried out 1,391 combat sorties against 1,623 “terrorist objects” in Syria, including command centers, training camps and ammunition depots.