State Department Spokesman John Kirby was left stumbling Tuesday when a reporter from Reuters asked about a report that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces would keep advancing against rebels until they reach the Turkish border.
“We interviewed an advisor to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, who said that it is their hope to continue their offensive until they get to the Turkish border. Do you have any reaction to that?” the reporter asked.
“I haven’t seen those comments. So, um, I would be loathe to comment to it and lend credence to those thoughts without having seen them. Again, what we want to see is a political solution here,” Kirby said.
As Reuters reported, among the concerns of Syrian forces closing off the border to rebels is that supplies and aid to civilians would be cut off, leading to an even worse humanitarian crisis. There have been attempts at peace talks; however they have have not truly begun yet.
The administration has been repeatedly criticized for not taking action to support the rebels who oppose Assad. Meanwhile, the Russian military has been giving the regime aid and conducting attacks on rebel forces. The Syrian government has been fighting both the rebels and Islamic State forces simultaneously.
In an interview in her Damascus office, Bouthaina Shaaban held out little hope for diplomatic efforts to end the five-year civil war, telling Reuters proposals for a ceasefire were coming from states that “do not want an end to terrorism” and wanted to shore up insurgents who are losing ground.
The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has launched a major advance in recent weeks near Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city, now divided between rebel- and government-held sectors.
The offensive, one of the biggest shifts in momentum of the five year civil war, has brought government forces closer than they have been in years to a border crossing with Turkeythat has served as the main supply route into rebel-held territory.