The Cable

Kerry Says Russia Should Face War Crimes Investigation, Of Some Sort

A clearly exasperated Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for Russia and Syria to face a war crimes investigation for the continuing deadly attacks on Syrian civilians, including one that hours earlier killed 20 and wounded 100 in a strike against a hospital.

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 30 : US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to media after a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (not seen) at Quai d'Orsay (French Foreign Ministry) in Paris, France on July 30, 2016.
 (Photo by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 30 : US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to media after a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (not seen) at Quai d'Orsay (French Foreign Ministry) in Paris, France on July 30, 2016. (Photo by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A clearly exasperated Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for Russia and Syria to face a war crimes investigation for the continuing deadly attacks on Syrian civilians, including one that hours earlier killed 20 and wounded 100 in a strike against a hospital.

But a U.S. official quickly sought to clarify Kerry’s comments, telling Foreign Policy the top American diplomat wasn’t proposing a “distinct” U.S. investigation, but was merely noting that such attacks “fly in the face” of international law.

Meeting at the State Department with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Kerry told reporters that “Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, and medical facilities, and women and children.”

“They are beyond the accidental now, way beyond,” said Kerry, adding that Damascus and Moscow were carrying out a concerted strategy to “terrorize civilians.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ayrault, who arrived in Washington directly from Moscow after meeting with Russian officials, called the situation in Syria a “human tragedy.”

He noted French efforts to broker a new ceasefire at the U.N. Security Council, including a cessation of hostilities, a no-fly zone over Aleppo, and humanitarian access to besieged areas. Still, it remains unclear how Paris’s plan will succeed where a very similar U.S.-Russian effort failed last month.

“We’re not giving up, and we cannot accept that Aleppo will be totally destroyed by Christmas,” said Ayrault. “This is the reason why I traveled to Moscow, this is the reason why I came to Washington, D.C. to see you, and I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you because I know, John, that we do share the same goals and the same values.”

The two diplomats met as Russia’s lower house of Parliament approved a treaty with Damascus allowing Russia to remain indefinitely in Syria.

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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