Audio captured during a sideline meeting Friday, Sept. 23, with Syrian civilians who provide relief services to beleaguered areas under rebel control, a handful of foreign diplomats and aides to the beset U.S Secretary of State, and turned over to the New York Times reveal John Kerry unleashing frustration with the deteriorating military and political situation in Syria and revealing pessimism over the low prospect for a negotiated solution to the five-year-old Syrian civil war.
The audiotapes, made in secret during the United Nations General Assembly by an unidentified source present at the meeting and in the wake of a ceasefire in Syria unraveling, offer a momentary look at the discontentment experienced by America’s top diplomat in contrast to the optimism Kerry often expresses in public when describing ongoing negotiations with the Russian Federation over the decaying conditions in war-torn Syria.
Often revealing despair, Kerry is caught lamenting Congress’ refusal to vote to use force in Syria, Russian intransigence, his own willingness to use force, but vexation over opposition within the Obama administration, a dissatisfaction with the inability to see Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad forced from power, what is required to remove Assad and American public opinion.
Regarding internal conflict inside the White House over using force in Syria, Kerry lamented his minority status.
“I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument,” he said. “I have argued this. I am the one who stood up and said attack Assad because of [chemical] weapons and then you know things evolved into a different process but the bottom line is that Congress refused to even vote to allow that.”
In regards to Russia, Kerry was remorseful.
“They were invited in, we were not,” he said. “We don’t behave like Russians. It’s just a different standard. The only reason they are letting us fly is because we are going after ISIL. If we were going after Assad, we would have to take out all the air defenses and we don’t have a legal justification for doing that.”
Telling his Syrian audience of his frustration at the lack of diplomacy and the prolonged suffering of the Syrian people, Kerry was forthright.
“Look, I get it,” he continued. “A lot of us wish there was an enforcement mechanism right now. A lot of us have been fighting for one, but we don’t have one right now and that’s set. We’re trying to pursue the diplomacy, and I understand it’s frustrating. You have nobody more frustrated than we are.”
Bemoaning the strong third-party impact of Iran and assorted militant groups involved in the conflict, the Secretary followed with details.
“The problem is that, you know, you get, quote, ‘enforcers’ in there and then everybody ups the ante, right? Russia puts in more, Iran puts in more; Hezbollah is there more and Nusra is more; and Saudi Arabia and Turkey put all their surrogate money in, and you all are destroyed.”
Concerning America’s role, Kerry expressed skepticism Americans would tolerate the introduction of U.S. ground forces to fight another war.
“And we’ve been fighting, how many wars have we been fighting? We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan, we’ve been fighting in Iraq, we’ve been fighting, you know, in the region for fourteen years. And a lot of Americans don’t believe that we should be fighting and sending young Americans over to die in another country. That’s the problem.”
Confronted by journalist and Syrian activist Marcell Shehwaro’s inquiries over American involvement and her hopes for Assad’s ouster, Kerry asked Ms. Shehwaro if her solution for Syria’s salvation included an outside force removing Assad to which Shehwaro responded: “Yes.” Asked by Kerry who this force may be, Shehwaro answered suggesting the Americans could not be relied upon.
“Three years ago, I would say: You. But right now, I don’t know,” said Shehwaro.
Of great interest to journalists and the world, reporters quizzed State Department spokesman John Kirby on Thursday evening. Kirby was reticent to discuss the tapes, but described the meeting as a private conversation and declined to suggest the release of the audiotapes was a breach of confidentiality.
“(Mr. Kerry was) grateful for the chance to meet with this group of Syrians, to hear their concerns firsthand and to express our continued focus on ending this civil war,” Kirby said.
[New York Times] [Photo courtesy Ameer Alhalbiameer Alhalbi/AFP/Getty Images via metro.co.uk]