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Kerry calls cable urging US Syria strikes ‘very good’

Secretary remains loyal to Obama’s anti-interventionism, but his empathy for ‘dissent memo’ may signal frustration

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on Syria at the State Department in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2016. (AFP/Jim Watson, File)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on Syria at the State Department in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2016. (AFP/Jim Watson, File)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he had read a memo from a group of frustrated diplomats urging strikes against the Syrian regime and found it “very good.”

The “dissent cable” became public last week after 51 serving US officials signed a call for direct US military action to force Bashar al-Assad’s regime to negotiate for peace.

The memo was seen as a criticism of President Barack Obama’s cautious approach, but the “dissent channel” is an approved mechanism for diplomats opposed to official policy.

The US State Department has already said the dissident mid-level staff will not face retribution for speaking out, and on Monday their boss Kerry appeared to signal support for their views.

Asked at a public event for college students whether he had read the dissenting memo, which was leaked to the press last week, Kerry said: “Yes. It’s very good. I’m going to meet with them.”

A man sits on the rubble of a destroyed building following reported air strikes by Syrian government forces in the rebel-held Shaar neighborhood of the northern city Aleppo, June 8, 2016. (AFP/KARAM AL-MASRI)
A man sits on the rubble of a destroyed building following reported air strikes by Syrian government forces in the rebel-held Shaar neighborhood of the northern city Aleppo, June 8, 2016. (AFP/Karam al-Masri)

Kerry has remained publicly loyal to Obama as the five-year-old carnage in Syria continues, pushing an improbable joint US-Russian plan to lure Assad and the rebels to the negotiating table.

But Kerry’s equanimity in the wake of the dissent cable — an unusual if not an unprecedented rebuke from frontline staff — supports the Washington conventional wisdom that he is frustrated.

In the memo, the diplomats argue that the “judicious use” of cruise missile and airborne strikes against regime targets could encourage Assad to seek a negotiated solution.

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