The United States Tuesday rejected the renewed call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying it was “destabilizing and counterproductive.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US would prefer to see more “constructive engagement” from Russia with the 60-member US-led coalition focused on degrading and destroying Islamic State.
“We would welcome Russia’s participation in that effort,” Earnest said.
Earnest was reacting to comments made earlier Tuesday by Putin in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, at a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a post-Soviet military alliance. The Russian president urged the international community to join Russia in supporting Assad in the fight against Islamic State.
“We support the government in Syria in their resistance against terrorist aggression and continue to supply military-technical assistance,” Putin said, according to Interfax.
The Russian military recently sent equipment to Latakia in western Syria and an airbase there, according to news reports Tuesday.
Russia has been a key ally of Assad throughout the civil war, which began in 2011, and for several years prior to the war. He has called several times for an international coalition to fight Islamic State. He wants both Assad and the healthy opposition to be part of it.
The US is sceptical of the initiative and says there is no need for another international coalition against Islamic State when more than 60 countries already are fighting in Syria and in Iraq, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
“There’s already an international coalition dedicated to that,” Kirby said. While the US would welcome a constructive role by Russia, Assad cannot be a part of that coalition.
Putin rejected accusations that Russia’s support for Assad makes it jointly responsible for the stream of refugees flowing into Europe. Other countries have destabilized the situation in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin said.
“We haven’t destroyed state institutions there and created a power vacuum that terrorists are now filling,” he said. He said if Russia didn’t support Syria, the situation there would be much worse and there would be more refugees.
He also said US meddling in the internal affairs of other states targets radical elements in order to topple governments it disfavours.
Both Earnest and Kirby reiterated the US position that Assad “has lost legitimacy” to lead Syria and that a “political transition away from Assad” should occur.
The Syrian conflict, which started in 2011, has led to at least 250,000 deaths, according to UN estimates. More than half the country’s prewar population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or fled abroad.