The State Department on Thursday would not call the recent airstrikes allegedly carried out by either Russian or Syrian planes on a school a "war crime."
State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked during the department's daily press briefing about the strikes on a school complex on Wednesday that killed at least 35 people, including 20 children. Rescuers expect several of those who were wounded to die as well. The White House said Thursday that it believes either Russia or the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the airstrikes.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power castigated Russia and the Assad regime's actions in Syria while addressing her Russian counterpart on Wednesday.
"You don't get congratulations and get credit for not committing war crimes for a day, or a week," Power said. "That's not how the international system is structured, and nor should it ever be."
Kirby was asked if Power's comments mean that the United States officially recognizes Russian and Syrian airstrikes, like the ones on the school, as war crimes.
"The secretary has been equally as candid and forthright about this and saying that what he's seeing can only be couched as violations of international law," Kirby said. "The term ‘war crimes' itself has a very legalistic definition and it's not for me at this podium or for us here at the State Department to make that definitive qualification."
A reporter asked why it was okay then for Power to call the airstrikes war crimes. Kirby was called out for his explanation that what Power said was not exactly what she meant. One reporter added that what has happened in Syria has gone beyond violations of international law and asked where the United States is in making a definitive decision on war crimes.
"It's not up to the State Department to make a determination," Kirby said. "But the secretary has said he does believe that what's going on is worthy of investigation by the international community. And the determination of war crimes, it needs to be made by an appropriate judicial process, not by one cabinet agency just making a declaration of it."
Kirby added that Secretary of State John Kerry wants an investigation by the international community into the determination of whether there have been war crimes. Kirby was asked if the United States was calling for a formal investigation before one reporter mentioned that the U.N. has already called the school strike a possible war crime.
Kirby would only say that the United States is engaged in conversations on the matter with the international community.