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article imageJohn Kerry's Syria agreement creates conflict with Pentagon

By Ken Hanly     Sep 15, 2016 in Politics
The deal between Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated with Russia for a ceasefire in Syria has increased the tension between Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
The cease-fire agreement took effect at sundown last Monday. Although violence has been reduced, there have been a number of violations and problems. The situation was not improved by Assad saying he intended to recapture all areas of Syria.
Carter had been one of several administration officials who argued against the agreement in a conference call with the White House that included Kerry. President Obama eventually approved the agreement after a long debate. However, Pentagon officials were not convinced. Pentagon officials would not even agree to the proposal that if violence ceases for a week, the next day the U.S. and Russia would share information on Islamic State targets in Syria. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of the United State Air Forces Central Command said: “I’m not saying yes or no. It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.” However even the White House press secretary expressed doubts: “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. But we’ll see.”
Kerry wants the U.S. to do everything possible to keep Assad from bombing civilians. He hopes that the agreement will keep Assad from such bombings. Kerry has had success dealing with the Russians before. Just two years ago on Sept. 14 he negotiated a surprise agreement with Sergei Lavrov to eliminate Assad's chemical weapons. The agreement does not include chlorine which appears to have been used recently. Kerry was also successful in negotiation of a nuclear deal with Iran against much opposition from many U.S. politicians However, in spite of many attempts, he failed to revive Middle East peace talks.
Apparently Kerry himself believes the deal may not work but he is determined to try anyway because it is so important to relieve some of the suffering and stop the violence that has taken about half a million lives already. The problem is that neither side may be able to adequately control Assad or some of the rebel groups. Already, UN trucks with aid for Aleppo were stuck at the Turkish border awaiting permission from the Assad government to enter Syria.
Kerry's positive negotiations and cooperation with Russia are happening in a climate in which the U.S., especially the military, takes a very combative stand against Russia on issues such as Crimea and the rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. military is not vey anxious to share intelligence with a country that it increasingly considers an adversary.
Gen. Philip Breedlove, who was until recently NATO's supreme allied commander said:“I remain skeptical about anything to do with the Russians. There are a lot of concerns about putting out there where our folks are.” A measure of the sensitivity of the agreement is that the State Department has not released the text of the agreement or even a fact sheet summarizing it.
It remains to be seen whether the cease-fire holds for seven days. No doubt there will be numerous violations even if it holds. If both sides agree the cease-fire held then the U.S. and Russia are to begin to share intelligence on targeting the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. The U.S. military worries that any such sharing would reveal information about U.S. tactics and intelligence gathering methods.
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