Kerry: Syria getting very close to civil war

Kerry: Syria getting very close to civil war

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable that Syria is "pretty close" to a civil war, but declined to say that the United States should start providing material support to the opposition.

"It certainly has the feel of [a civil war]," said Kerry, who just returned from an 11-day trip around the Middle East. He said that the escalating violence in Syria was the No. 1 topic of discussion in his meetings with regional officials, but wouldn’t commit to advocating any specific U.S. actions, such as directly aiding the opposition or establishing humanitarian safe zones near the border.

"I think we’ve got to work with a lot allies," he said. "The Arab League and the Gulf [Cooperation] Council are taking significant initiatives with respect to it and I think we really need to consult with them and see step by step what’s appropriate."

Kerry’s comments differed from Middle East subcommittee chairman Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who told The Cable today that the Arab League isn’t doing all it can and the United States should do more.

"I would hope the Arab League can be more constructive and more effective than they have been to date," Casey said. "I think it was a debacle sending in folks that weren’t able to convey a sense of legitimacy or competence in terms of putting a team on the ground to monitor."

"[W]e need to be more pointed in our effort to create more pressure," Casey said, adding that he was in favor of direct aid to the opposition, although not necessarily a no-fly zone. "[A no-fly zone] worked in Libya, but the challenges in each country are different," he said.

The State Department is now focused on using the Arab League monitoring mission’s report, which was delivered over the weekend, as the centerpiece of a new push at the U.N. Security Council. Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman is in Moscow now to gauge Russian support for such action. Russia recently sold more weapons to Syria and is expected to oppose any U.N. action that would be seen as authorizing stronger measures against the Syrian regime.

Feltman warned the Russians of the danger of supplying more arms to the Syrian government, but has been unable thus far to convince Moscow that tougher actions against the Syrian regime are needed. "You know, I wouldn’t say that there was a major breakthrough," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday about Feltman’s discussions with Russian officials.

The Arab League extended  the monitoring mission for another month this week, and called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy and begin a national dialogue with opposition groups. Assad has already rejected that proposal, leading Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf countries to withdraw their monitors, leaving the mission less functional and with fewer resources, said Nuland.

"[O]ur understanding is that the GCC countries were not interested in continuing if in fact the entirety of the Arab League proposal was not going to be accepted," she said. "Clearly there’s going to be a big hole in this operation now, and it’s a direct result of the Assad regime’s rejection of the larger proposal for a national dialogue."

Kerry also explained to The Cable why he returned to Washington with two black eyes and a swollen nose. He said he did a face-plant while playing hockey with some friends in Massachusetts.

"I was playing hockey and I met the ice … crunch!" Kerry said. "I was trying to avoid a guy, I tried to leap over him … it seemed like the nice thing to do."