x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

US vows military action in Syria if other options fail

The top military adviser to the US president said he expects international pressure on Damascus to increase following the massacre in Hula.

WASHINGTON // The top military adviser to the US president said he expects international pressure on Damascus to increase following the massacre in Hula, as America seeks to enlist Russia's help to secure a transition of power in Syria.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US would act if all other options were exhausted.

"Diplomatic pressure should always precede any discussions about military options ... And so, we will be prepared to provide [military] options if asked to do so," Gen Dempsey told CBS's This Morning.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility, blaming the killings on "armed terrorists".

Analysts suggest that while Russia may have shifted a little in its stance on Syria, there was still a long way to go before Moscow would abandon Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president.

Russia backed Sunday's unanimous UN Security Council condemnation of Friday's massacre of more than 100 civilians, mostly women and children. But the nation had baulked at an earlier version that more directly blamed the Syrian government for the killings.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, reiterated yesterday that it was not clear who was to blame.

Russia's deputy UN envoy, Alexander Pankin, said after the session that the events leading up to the incident remained "murky".

One diplomatic option reportedly gaining ground in Washington is to convince Russia to subscribe to a Yemen-style transition of power, whereby Mr Al Assad resigns but the bulk of the regime stays intact. Moscow has signalled it would not oppose such a solution.

Mr Lavrov said yesterday that it was "not the most important thing who is in power in Syria".

But to Russia, "the main thing is to put an end to the violence among civilians and to provide for political dialogue under which the Syrians themselves decide on the sovereignty of their country".

The key is that it should be a Syrian decision, said Elena Suponina, the head of the Asia and Middle East department of the Moscow-based Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.

"Russia is not so strongly opposed to a Yemen scenario," Ms Suponina said yesterday. But in Yemen, both the regime and the opposition signed on to the agreement. The same would need to apply in Syria for Russia to support it, she added, leaving such a scenario "possible but remote".

Moreover, one of Moscow's primary concerns is the perception by some politicians that western countries are trying to dilute the power of the UN's Security Council, and thereby Russia's influence on global affairs, by finding mechanisms to intervene in other countries outside the UN, Ms Suponina said.

Moscow is also under pressure from its other allies in the region, she added, especially Iran, not to abandon its long-standing relationship with Damascus.