Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday the Obama administration is “prepared to welcome” the Russian military’s bombardment of al Qaeda and Islamic State targets in Syria, but will continue for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We must not and will not be confused in our fight against [the Islamic State] with support for Assad,” Mr. Kerry told the U.N. Security Council in New York.
Just hours after Russian fighters jets began pounding Syrian targets for the first time, Mr. Kerry said U.S. officials will be watching closely to see whether the Russians are truly going after al Qaeda and the Islamic State — also known as ISIS and ISIL — or are simply backing Syria’s military to attack anything the Assad regime wants to hit.
The Obama administration will “have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al Qaeda affiliate targets are not operating,” the secretary of state said, according to Agence France-Presse.
“If Russia’s recent actions and those now ongoing reflect a genuine commitment to defeat that organization then we are prepared to welcome those efforts,” Mr. Kerry said.
American forces, which are currently carrying out their own bombing runs against al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria, are ready to “de-conflict” with Russian forces and communicate to avoid accidental encounters on the battlefield, he said.
This could work, he said, toward positively “increasing the military pressure on ISIL.”
While Russian President Vladimir Putin says his goal is to help the Syrian military fight the Islamic State, Moscow has long colluded with Iran as a top backer of the Assad regime.
This has rubbed the Obama administration the wrong way, because administration officials have spent much of the past four years calling for the Syrian president’s ouster on grounds that he fueled the rise of the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other extremists in Syria by authorizing the nation’s military to conduct genocide-style attacks on civilians.
A big question at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week has centered on the extent to which Mr. Putin is now muscling President Obama — as well as others in a broad U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and the Assad regime — into abandoning their long-held demand that the Syrian president step down.