State Department spokesman John Kirby on Thursday defended Secretary of State John Kerry’s threat to suspend bilateral engagement with Russia in Syria if Moscow and the Assad regime continue bombing civilians in the city of Aleppo.
Associated Press reporter Matt Lee and Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed questioned the seriousness of Kerry’s warning and whether the Obama administration would follow through with it. Nothing had changed in the day since Kerry communicated his initial threat to Russia.
"So, yesterday you said you were preparing to suspend. This morning, the secretary said you were on the verge of suspending," Lee said. "So, what’s the tipping point? If things haven’t changed, why haven’t you suspended?"
Kirby defended Wednesday’s comments by saying that Kerry is still prepared to suspend talks with Russia.
Lee then said it appears as though Kerry had backed down from his initial threat and asked how it was not a bluff.
"Why should they not see your threat to suspend as a bluff if you have not gone ahead and suspended given the fact that there’s been no change in the situation on the ground?" Lee asked.
"Well, I certainly can’t get in the heads of Russian leaders and determine how they looked at the strength of the comments that we had yesterday," Kirby said. "They still remain valid today."
Kirby also referred to Kerry’s warning to Moscow as "no idle threat."
"Yesterday, you told us both in the readout and then when you spoke here, you told us that you would do so unless Russia took immediate steps to halt the violence, and when we asked you to define ‘immediate,’ if I’m not mistaken, you said now," Mohammed said.
"So 24 hours have gone past," Mohammed said. "Is it fair to say that you don’t need immediate action from them?"
"No, that’s not fair to say at all," Kirby said.
"If immediate means now, and they didn’t do anything yesterday, and as best I can tell the violence has continued pretty much unabated overnight, why are you giving them more time?" Mohammed asked.
"It’s not about giving them more time. As I said, the conversation continued again today," Kirby said.