Obama seeks to solve Syrian crisis while crushing Russia’s ally

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is trying to calm the Syrian crisis, but he’s also sending weapons to the Islamic groups now fighting to depose Syria’s Russian-backed government, which has has used nerve-gas rockets against rebel-held neighborhoods.

“We will continue to support the opposition,” White House spokesman Jay Carney repeatedly declared on Thursday.

Thursday morning, Obama talked up his relatively popular domestic priorities, and urged reporters to focus on Secretary of State John Kerry’s afternoon negotiations with the Russian foreign minister. (RELATED: Obama pedals away from Syrian debacle)

Kerry played his part that afternoon, and downplayed any threats to strike Syria.

“President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these [chemical] weapons,” Kerry announced from a press podium in Geneva.

The use of “might” and “deter” reduces the threat U.S airstrikes, which Obama promised late last week.

Kerry even downplayed the prospect that the U.S. will do anything if Syria and Russians refuse to disarm Syria’s chemical arsenal.

“There ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place,” he said, without threatening U.S. military strikes.

Kerry also downplayed the long-running conflicts with Russia that minimized interaction between Obama and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at the G-20 economic summit, held Sept. 5 and 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“The Russian delegation has put some ideas forward and we’re grateful for that, we respect that,” Kerry told the reporters.

Without televised drama, such as diplomatic confrontations or threats of war, the U.S. media will quickly reduce coverage of Syria.

Kerry even played up his cooperation with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and shared a joke as the two left the press podium.

However, Obama can’t end the Syrian crisis without Putin’s cooperation — and Putin’s price is the survival of the embattled Syrian government.

So far, Obama doesn’t want to pay that price, and he’s continuing the flow of military support to some of the less-radical Islamist rebels.

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They “are and will be receiving assistance,” Carney said on Thursday. “It is important to note that the political and military opposition are and will be receiving this assistance,” he reiterated.

Putin wants to preserve the Syrian government, and may choose to heat up the Syrian crisis until Obama scales back or even stops military aid to the rebels.

“If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust… [and will] open the door to cooperation on other critical issues,” Putin wrote in an article published in the New York Times late Wednesday night.

Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, also said he won’t deal on chemical weapons until the U.S. stops supplying the Syrian Islamic rebels.

“When we see that the United States truly desires stability in our region and stops threatening and seeking to invade, as well as stops arms supplies to terrorists then we can believe that we can follow through with the necessary processes,” Assad told a Russian television interviewer Sept. 12.

Kerry’s conciliatory tone and statements Sept. 12 were much different from statements issued by Kerry and Obama last week, before the public and Congress rejected the strike plan.

The planned strike “is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms [against the use of chemical weapons], that there are consequences,” he told reporters at the outset of a Sept. 3 morning meeting with congressional leaders.

Obama has read the unfavorable polls, counted the few supportive votes in Congress, and checked the calendar, which shows that he has little time to fend off the GOP’s budget-cutting efforts and still win his top legislative priority — signing an new immigration bill that doubles the immigration rate over the next 20 years.

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Neil Munro