Obama Spokesman on Syria Debacle: 'Don't Have Much to Say About That'

By Susan Jones | October 4, 2016 | 6:56am EDT
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - Stating the obvious on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters: "The Obama administration has concluded that Russia has no intention of living up to commitments that they have made" on the cessation of hostilities in Syria.

"And once you've reached that conclusion, I'm not really sure what else there is to talk about."

The Obama administration on Monday announced it is suspending direct talks with Russia on stopping, or at least pausing, the fighting in Syria, where the civilian population is starving and dying. In the city of Aleppo, another hospital was bombed on Monday.

"What's clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to trying to reach an agreement that would reduce the violence inside of Syria, and that's tragic," Earnest said.

Reporters pressed Earnest on what happens next?

"We're going to have to pursue an alternative approach. I don't have much to say about that right now," Earnest said.

"Russia has acknowledged that a political transition in Syria is necessary. Russia has acknowledged that they face a very serious and urgent threat from extremists that are using chaos in Syria to plot and carry out attacks around the world. Russia has a lot on the hook...Are they going to continue to pursue a strategy where they bomb civilian populations into submission, and over time will that allow them to make more progress? It might, we'll see."

A reporter noted that given the ongoing "mass murder" in Syria, "some people do feel that there is a sense of urgency, or there should be one."

The reporter asked if the U.S. is considering sanctions against Russia. "I mean, what is the White House thinking when it comes to actually perhaps taking any kind of action to stop the humanitarian catastrophe inside of Aleppo if you can't bargain the Russians out of it?"

Earnest responded "there are a range tools available to the United States, including the use of sanctions that have proved to be an increasingly effective and powerful tool."

But then he admitted that sanctions don't always work: "But look, the United States also worked effectively with our European partners to implement sanctions against Russia because of their violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity, and we haven't seen the kind of change in strategy in Ukraine that we'd like to see yet, either.

"So the president is going to consider a range of options, and the president is regularly being updated by his national security team about the options that are available to him, and this is something that they certainly will be talking about more frequently in the days ahead, considering that the United States is no longer engaged in talks with the Russians."

Later, another reporter asked Earnest, "What is the end game? What will happen to Assad? I mean, what's....the thought here?"

"That's a provocative question," Earnest said. "I -- I don't think anybody knows exactly how this gets resolved. Everybody, including the Russians, has acknowledged that a political transition is necessary. Earnest said Syrian President Bashar Assad, supported by Russia, "has gotten Putin into mess."

"And Russia is now investing significant resources to try to protect the previous investment that they have made there. Russia has, we know, sent significant quantities of military equipment, they've sent military personnel, they've spent significant funds, funds that they don't have -- we have talked at some length about the declining strength of the Russian economy.

"As a result of their actions inside of Syria, Russia is deeply isolated and has earned the stern rebuke of the international community for their actions. Russia has also gotten themselves knee deep into a sectarian quagmire that fuels extremism and only increases the risk to Russia's security back home. All of that because President Putin is looking out for his guy (Assad).

Earnest said that's why the administration had the "hope" that Russia would be willing to broker a deal to pause the fighting so humanitarian aid could get through.

"But that is an agreement that Russia was unwilling to live up to, and it's unfortunate, both when you consider Russia's national security interests, but also when you consider the lives of millions of innocent Syrians that are still trapped in that country. So in a sense, Assad has it both ways; he's being protected and he's being allowed to continue his ways.

"Well, he is allowed -- he is allowed to remain in power because he is being propped up by the Russians and the Iranians, and I think the question really is, what are the Iranians and the Russians getting out of it?

"And we know that they're paying some significant costs, and we know that the Russian economy is such that they don't have as many resources to pay those costs as they used to. But we'll have to see what happens from here."

We'll see. No Plan B.

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