Secretary of State John F. Kerry vowed Tuesday not to allow Syria’s largest city and onetime moderate opposition stronghold of Aleppo to fall to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad — even if that means abandoning the fragile cease-fire that U.S. officials have been trying to uphold in the war-torn nation.
“If Assad’s strategy is to somehow think he’s going to just carve out Aleppo and carve out a section of the country, I got news for you and for him: this war doesn’t end,” Mr. Kerry told reporters at the State Department.
Mr. Kerry also suggested that if serious progress is not made toward politically removing Mr. Assad from power by August, the Obama administration will have no other choice but to dramatically change its approach to Syria’s 5-year-old civil war.
Regional experts warned in February, when the administration first engineered the cease-fire, that it would effectively consolidate the Assad regime’s gains around Aleppo — putting all of Syria’s major cities back under Mr. Assad’s control.
But Mr. Kerry said Tuesday that U.S. officials and Syrian opposition representatives remain determined not to let that happen.
While the cease-fire has all but collapsed during recent weeks beneath a wave of Russian and Syrian strikes in and around Aleppo, the secretary of state said U.S. negotiators are now scrambling to reinstate the truce in “a way that protects the integrity” of the city.
It was unclear Tuesday whether Russia, the Assad regime’s main backer in the war, will agree to work toward that goal or try and disrupt it.
According to the BBC, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his own negotiators were working with the United Nations and U.S. officials to include Aleppo in a “regime of calm” that has covered other regime-held areas of Syria since the weekend.
But Mr. Lavrov also warned that Syrian opposition rebels — backed by Washington — would have to leave certain territory around Aleppo, where Russian and Syria forces are targeting Islamic terrorists and some 250 people have been killed in fighting during recent days.
Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, said the hopes for a renewed cease-fire in Syria will only dim if Russia and Iran, which also backs Mr. Assad, do not get behind a push to politically remove the Syrian president from power.
“It will not hold unless there is a bona fide effort to put in place a transition,” Mr. Kerry said. “The target date for the transition is the first of August. So we’re not coming up to May. So, either something happens in these next few months or they are asking for a very different track.”