John Kerry just drew a new red line for Assad in Syria

The new deadline for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s transition out of power: August 1, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference at the State Department on Tuesday.

“The target date for the transition is the first of August,” Kerry told reporters. “So we’re now coming up to May. So either something happens in these next few months, or they are asking for a very different track.”

The ultimatum was reminiscent of Kerry’s warning in 2011 that Assad’s days were “numbered,” as well as President Barack Obama’s “red line” speech in 2012 outlining the conditions — namely, the use of chemical weapons — that would prompt the US to take action against the embattled dictator. But then, as now, Kerry did not specify what “track” Washington would take to force Assad’s ouster.

“That is for the future,” Kerry said.

Kerry responded to questions about Assad’s departure after announcing a new plan to end the latest wave of violence in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, where more than 250 civilians have been killed in less than a week by government airstrikes and rebel shelling.

Under a new ceasefire arrangement, US and Russian military officials “will be sitting at the same table” at a coordination center in Geneva to monitor and document any violations of the truce, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, in a news conference from Moscow with the UN’s envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The truce will include Aleppo moving forward.

Russia — a staunch ally of Assad — had initially refused to include Aleppo in the cessation of hostilities agreement because of Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra’s presence in parts of the city. It used the group to justify the continued airstrikes.
As a result, joint US-Russian efforts to end regime bombardments there have largely been made on Moscow’s terms, and Kerry admitted that negotiators are still trying to figure out how to target Nusra — which is not party to the cessation of hostilities agreement — without hitting rebel groups who have agreed to abide by the ceasefire.

“Are they somehow commingled? Are they fair game? These are the kinds of things that have to be worked out, so that there’s no misunderstanding” about “who is doing what, where, when and how,” Kerry said. “We don’t control the terrorists.”

In any case, Kerry insisted the US would not allow Aleppo to fall to the government. He said there would be “repercussions” if forces loyal to Assad did not abide by the new terms.

“If Assad does not adhere to this [ceasefire], there will clearly be repercussions, and one of them may be the total destruction of the ceasefire and then go back to war,” Kerry said. “I don’t think Russia wants that. I don’t think Assad is going to benefit from that. There may be even other repercussions being discussed.”

Again, however, Kerry did not specify what consequences the Assad regime or Russia would face if it violated the ceasefire agreement.

“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,” Kerry said. “As long as Assad is there, the opposition is not going to stop fighting.”

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