- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2016

Faced with calls to take stronger steps against Russia’s involvement in Syria’s civil war, the White House said Monday that President Obama won’t apologize for pursuing peace.

“Seeking peace is not a concession. Seeking peace is our goal,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

But the administration did apologize, through backdoor channels, to Syria, for Sept. 17 airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition that killed Syrian forces. A senior Obama administration official said the U.S. has “relayed our regret,” through Russia, for the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces fighting the Islamic State group.

A cease-fire broke down last week with the resumption of fighting and bombing around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, where about 250,000 civilians are trapped. Hundreds of people, including dozens of children, have been reported killed since Thursday night by an onslaught that includes bunker-busting bombs that bring down whole buildings.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have criticized the administration for inaction on Syria. They say U.S. timidity is helping Russia win the civil war in Syria for President Bashar Assad. Mr. McCain described Secretary of State John F. Kerry as “intrepid but delusional” for putting too much faith in Russia.

Mr. Kerry, traveling in Colombia, said his failed cease-fire was not the cause of the fighting and that the only way to stop the war was through talk. He lashed back at critics.

“The cause of what is happening is Assad and Russia wanting to pursue a military victory,” Mr. Kerry told reporters. “Today, there is no cease-fire and we’re not talking to them right now. And what’s happening? The place is being utterly destroyed. That’s not delusional. That’s a fact.”

Mr. Earnest said the White House isn’t “going to be in a position of apologizing for pursuing peace.” He said Russia hasn’t lived up to its agreement to a cease-fire while seeking military cooperation from the U.S.

“They have not delivered on those commitments,” Mr. Earnest said. “If anything, they have walked back from them. So the United States has not been in a position where we are providing anything to the Russians.”

Medical supplies were running short in eastern Aleppo, with the injured pouring into barely functioning hospitals. Russia and Mr. Assad ignored Western pleas to stop the bombing of the last major urban area in opposition hands.

Moscow and Damascus launched their assault last week despite months of negotiations led by Mr. Kerry that resulted in a short-lived cease-fire. The secretary of state’s diplomatic overtures to Moscow faced skepticism, including from other senior officials within the U.S. administration.

The Syrian government offensive to recapture all of Aleppo, with Russian air support and Iranian help on the ground, has been accompanied by bombing that residents describe as unprecedented in its ferocity.

In a tense confrontation at the United Nations this weekend, the U.S. called Russia’s bombing in support of Mr. Assad “barbarism” and said its military was killing civilians, medical staff and aid workers.

Moscow and Damascus say they are bombing only militants, although video from Aleppo has repeatedly shown small children being dug out of the rubble of collapsed buildings.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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