Kerry Plan to Coordinate with Russia in Syria Criticized by U.S. Officials, European Allies

A recently announced proposal by Secretary of State John Kerry to closely coordinate American military activity in Syria with Russia is coming under growing criticism from U.S. officials, European allies, and moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported on Sunday.

The deal involves sharing intelligence with Russia to help target the Nusra Front, a non-ISIS terrorist group that is fighting the Assad regime. However, according to critics, the deal would allow both Russian and Syrian ground forces to target moderate rebels opposed to Assad. Critics consider the plan to be naive for placing trust in Russia, with some members of the European coalition against ISIS saying that Moscow has proven an untrustworthy ally in Syria.

American officials have also expressed fears that the proposal, which has been under discussion since earlier this month, could encourage moderate U.S. rebels to join extreme groups fighting Assad.

Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Reuters that “it’s not clear to me that the Russians can deliver on their side of the deal.”

One U.S. official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity outlined two problems with the agreement:

One: The Russians’ aim in Syria is still either keeping Assad in power or finding some successor who is acceptable to them. … And two: Putin has proved over and over again, and not just in Syria, that he cannot be trusted to honor any agreement he makes if he decides it’s no longer in Russia’s interest.

While one European official said the deal would get the U.S. and Russia on the same page over what groups to target, he cautioned that “the devil is in the details, and we’re not convinced that Moscow is serious.”

However, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, whose nation is covered by a current U.S.-Russian cooperation agreement to minimize the risk of aircraft collisions, said that it “certainly does not extend to any cooperation over targeting, and we would not welcome that.”

Basma Kodmani, a member of the High Negotiations Committee, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups, told Reuters last week that “The [Obama] administration has put its bet on the good faith cooperation of the Russians, with so far very disappointing results.”

The doubts about the deal have been magnified by Kerry’s silence on Moscow’s apparent ceasefire violations in Syria. “What’s striking is not what Kerry has said, but what he’s failed to say,” another U.S. official told Reuters, adding that Kerry omitted “inconvenient facts” about Russian violations.

Russia twice targeted an American base in Syria last week; the second time came after U.S. Central Command informed the Russians that it was an American base.

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