Details of Syria Pact Widen Rift Between John Kerry and Pentagon
By HELENE COOPER and DAVID E. SANGER
The New York Times
“I’m not saying yes or no,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters on a video conference call. “It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.”
White House officials were also dubious. “I think we’d have some reasons to be skeptical that the Russians are able or are willing to implement the arrangement consistent with the way it’s been described,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Monday at a briefing. He added, darkly, “But we’ll see.”
In Mr. Kerry’s view, the administration has needed to do everything it can to restrain the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria from continuing to bomb civilians. Once the Russians entered the war, that meant making the deal with President Vladimir V. Putin — one in which the Russians would pressure Mr. Assad to stay out of the skies.
For Mr. Kerry, the search for a reduction in violence in Syria, and ultimately a political agreement that will ease Mr. Assad out of office, is a matter of legacy and reputation. His first major project as secretary of state, reviving Mideast peace talks, collapsed before his first year in office was complete. His next major effort, the Iran nuclear deal, was far more successful, and he ultimately found a way to convince the Iranians to ship most of their nuclear material out of the country and dismantle key facilities.
But the Syria deal, as Mr. Kerry himself conceded at the State Department on Monday, is far more complex — in part because there are so many other players, beyond Washington and Moscow, with stakes in the outcome. In private, he has conceded to aides and friends that he believes it will not work. But he has said he is determined to try, so that he, and Mr. Obama, do not leave office having failed to alleviate a civil war that has taken roughly half a million lives.
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