Audio Reveals What John Kerry Told Syrians Behind Closed Doors

Over and over again, he complained to a small group of Syrian civilians that his diplomacy had not been backed by a serious threat of military force, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times. Then Mr. Kerry astonished the Syrians at the table when he suggested that they should participate in elections that include President Bashar al-Assad, five years after President Obama demanded that he step down.

0:34 “I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument.”

The 40-minute discussion, on the sidelines of last week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, provides a glimpse of Mr. Kerry’s frustration with his inability to end the Syrian crisis. He veered between voicing sympathy for the Syrians’ frustration with United States policy and trying to justify it.

The conversation took place days after a brief cease-fire he had spearheaded crumbled, and as his Russian counterpart rejected outright his new proposal to stop the bombing of Aleppo. Those setbacks were followed by days of crippling Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Aleppo that the World Health Organization said Wednesday had killed 338 people, including 100 children.

At the meeting last week, Mr. Kerry was trying to explain that the United States has no legal justification for attacking Mr. Assad’s government, whereas Russia was invited in by the government.

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