Sec. of State John Kerry, while speaking to the United Nations Wednesday about the Russian airstrikes being conducted on targets in Syria, conceded "there is a legitimate role for Russia in the Middle East," former Ambassador John Bolton said Wednesday.
"This is something we have resisted for half a century," Bolton said while appearing as a guest on Fox News' "Outnumbered"
program. "He said it is in connection with getting rid of the [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad regime, which is a point that has been made that Russia will cooperate with getting rid of Assad. That is not going to happen."
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Instead, the former ambassador said that he believes, like rebels in Syria and other experts, that Russia is actually in Syria to "strengthen the Assad regime."
"[Russia] should be coordinating with us," Bolton said. "We should be the ones telling them where they can fly."
He also has a prediction: "Russia wants to strengthen the Baghdad government and Assad and then declare a truce with ISIS, so they can go on and declare other things. Don't think these people are not cynical enough to do this. The Russians know how to do this kind of thing."
Kerry said in a briefing at the United Nations at around noon that the United States has made it clear there would be "grave concerns" should Russia hit areas in Syria where Islamic State and al-Qaida-affiliated targets are not located, Kerry said Wednesday, as those strikes would "question Russia's real intentions in the region."
"We have informed Russia we are prepared to hold these deconflicting talks as early as this week," Kerry said just after noon at The United Nations. "But let me be clear, the United States and the coalition will continue our ongoing air operations as we have from the very beginning. We have conducted a number of strikes against ISIS targets in Syria over the past 24 hours, including just an hour ago. And these strikes will continue."
He also insisted that the multi-national coalition of more than 60 countries has had many successes against ISIS, including the liberation of Kobani, Sinjar Mountain, and other areas, allowing "hundreds of thousands of residents" to return home and resume their lives.
But Bolton commented on the program that he does not believe President Barack Obama will do "much of anything," when what the administration should be doing is "reasserting America's role in the Middle East."
"I think Putin is playing a long game here," Bolton said. "He is bidding for dominance in the Middle East against the United States and thinks he can prevail because he has a weak occupant in the White House who has written one red line after another on Syria and Iran."
But the provocation today is not the real issue, the former ambassador continued, as "the real provocation is any additional Russian military forces in the region, something we tried to keep out for 50 years since the Soviet military advisors were exposed. This represents a sway in the Middle East that is a disaster."
Meanwhile, Kerry said the United States-led coalition has not changed, and will continue its efforts against ISIS strongholds.
"The coalition has now conducted 3,000 airstrikes against ISIL targets and we are in position with France, Australia, Canada, Turkey and other partners joining the campaign to accelerate our efforts," Kerry said.
And despite Russia's move, Kerry said coalition flights will continue out of Turkey to apply pressure on strategic areas held by ISIS, but the Syrian crisis will also need a "political solution."
"The vast majority of states around this table know that the ISIL forces, ISIL itself cannot be defeated as long as Bashar al Assad remains president of Syria," said Kerry. "It cannot happen because of who has lined up with whom and because of the nature of these protagonist. And the reason is defined because of how this fight began.
"This fight began when young Syrians looking for a future, wanting nothing more than opportunity and jobs and education, when they went out to demonstrate for the future and to claim the aspirations of young people, and Bashar al Assad sent his thugs out to beat them up. The parents were outraged by the fact their children demonstrating peacefully were beaten up and they went out with their kids and they were met with bullets. That is how this whole thing began."
And as a result, Syrians looking for a future were "instead met with repression, torture, gassing, barrel bombs," said Kerry. "Assad will never be accepted by those he has harmed. Never possible to become a legitimate leader in the future, never possible to lead the unification of a country."
Russia is arguing that Assad must be supported in the fight against ISIS, but Kerry pointed out that Assad "barely chose himself to fight" the militants.
"As the terrorists came through raping and murdering the Syrian regime didn't try to stop them," he said. "Instead they focused the military power on moderate opposition groups who were fighting for a voice in Syria."
Kerry said he is calling on all governments, including those of Russia and Syria, to support an UN initiative to bring a change of power.
"If we can succeed in marginalizing the terrorists in Syria and bringing the country together we can do exactly what the security council patience and this institution were set up to do," said Kerry.
"We could strike a blow against violent extremism, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, and across the Middle East and around the world."
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