State Department spokesman Mark Toner was called out Friday by Associated Press reporter Matt Lee for the U.S. not following through on threats to Russia following Moscow’s continued bombardment of Aleppo, Syria and for having an unclear policy.
The Obama administration and State Department have received criticism this week for not following through on Wednesday’s threat from Secretary of State John Kerry to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to end bilateral engagement in Syria if Russia does not stop working with the Syrian regime to bomb civilians in Aleppo.
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"You say that your position is clear, but I thought your position was clear two days ago, that you were going to suspend this dialogue unless immediate action was taken," Lee said. "And it’s now been 48 hours, and there hasn’t been any action."
"So I guess I don’t know how you can say your position is clear, because it seems to be unclear, not just to me but presumably also to the Russians who you made this threat," Lee continued. "They didn’t do what you wanted them to do, and now you’re not following through on it."
Toner responded that he would not go into detail about the diplomatic discussions that have occurred with the Russians so far.
Lee also blasted the State Department and Obama administration for this not being the first time the United States has failed to follow through on threats in Syria, referring to the Obama administration’s failed "red line" that if the Assad regime in Syria used chemical weapons on civilians, the U.S. would take military action. Assad did use chemical weapons on his own people, and the U.S. did not follow through on its threat to respond.
"When has the administration actually carried out a threat to walk away?" Lee asked. "The U.S. didn’t walk out of the Iran nuclear talks."
"We didn’t, but we came close at several occasions," Toner said.
"But you didn’t do it, and you could argue, I'm sure as you probably do, that you got what you say is a successful deal out of it by not walking away, but in terms of Syria, the administration has twice said that it would do things if such and such happened or didn’t happen," Lee said. "You know what I’m talking about."
"Why should the Russians or anyone else for that matter take it seriously?" Lee asked.
"Well, again, I can’t speak to whether they do or don’t take us seriously, but they should because we are reaching that point," Toner said.