WASHINGTON — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a decidedly tongue-in-cheek response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning to Russia: no more talks if Moscow doesn’t stop attacks on the battered city of Aleppo.
The State Department said Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today and “expressed grave concern over the deteriorating situation in Syria, particularly for continued Russian and Syrian regime attacks on hospitals, the water supply network, and other civilian infrastructure in Aleppo.”
“The secretary made clear the United States and its partners hold Russia responsible for this situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker buster bombs in an urban environment, a drastic escalation that puts civilians at great risk,” press secretary John Kirby said in a readout of the meeting.
“The secretary stressed that the burden remains on Russia to stop this assault and allow humanitarian access to Aleppo and other areas in need. He informed the foreign minister that the United States is making preparations to suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria – including on the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center – unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities.”
In a joint statement, McCain and Graham called the warning “finally, a real power move in American diplomacy.”
“Secretary of State John ‘Not Delusional’ Kerry has made the one threat the Russians feared most – the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral talks about Syria,” the senators said. “No more lakeside tête-à-têtes at five-star hotels in Geneva. No more joint press conferences in Moscow.”
“We can only imagine that having heard the news, Vladimir Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes on hospitals, schools, and humanitarian aid convoys around Aleppo. After all, butchering the Syrian people to save the Assad regime is an important Russian goal. But not if it comes at the unthinkable price of dialogue with Secretary Kerry.”
Asked about the McCain-Graham take on the day’s events at the State Department briefing, Kirby said he hadn’t seen the statement.
“There’s nothing that the secretary’s going to apologize for, congressional criticism or not, about talking to the Russians, who have the most influence on Assad, to try to get this to stop,” Kirby said. “But as he also has said, his patience is not limitless. And I think you can tell from his comments in recent days and certainly this readout today that that patience is wearing extraordinarily thin.”