Obama doubts Russia in Syria, but says options limited
President Barack Obama doubted Thursday Russia’s commitment to broker a lasting peace in Syria, but said the U.S. must nonetheless commit itself to halting the violence.

"We’re going to test and see if we can get something that sticks, and if not, then Russia will have shown itself very clearly to be an irresponsible actor on the world stage that is supporting a murderous regime, and will have to answer to that on the international stage,” Obama told reporters at the Pentagon.

But the U.S. will insist on certain "bottom-lines” if it is to increase its cooperation with Russia, which will include Syrian government restraint that has so far been elusive, Obama said.

The U.S. is currently in talks with Russia regarding potentially expanded military cooperation in Syria that could include intelligence sharing. But the plan has been balked at by some officials, particularly in the Pentagon, who doubt Russia's trustworthiness.

The American president criticized Russia’s actions in the war-ravaged nation saying that they "raise very serious questions” about its commitment to help pull Syria "back from the brink”, but acknowledged "the options are limited".

"We have to test whether or not we can get an actual cessation of hostilities that includes an end to the kinds of aerial bombing and civilian death and destruction that we’ve seen carried out by the Assad regime,” he said.

If such an agreement is possible "then we have to try, because the alternative is a perpetuation of civil war,” Obama said.

The U.S. and Russia agreed to an initial cessation of hostilities in February, but the agreement has frayed in the past few months as rebels and forces allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have continued to clash, most recently in Aleppo where Assad's forces have encircled rebel-held parts of the city.

"The violations of this cessation have grown to the point where it just barely exists,” Obama said.

His comments follow a more than two hour-long meeting with his national security advisors about the threat posed by Daesh.

Obama also addressed November’s presidential polls, saying Republican candidate Donald Trump’s suggestions that the elections could be rigged are "ridiculous".

"That does not make any sense and I don't think anybody would take that seriously,” he said.

And he further took issue with a recent report concerning a cash payment to Iran as American hostages in the country were freed in January, saying it is an attempt at the "manufacturing of outrage".

"The only bit of news that is relevant on this is the fact that we paid cash," he said. "The reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions, and we do not have a banking relationship with Iran, that we couldn't send them a check, and we could not wire the money,” he added.

Last Modified: 2016-08-05 10:12:27
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