State Department diplomats call for US military action in Syria
Dozens of State Department employees have endorsed an internal document that advocates US military action to pressure Syria's government into accepting a ceasefire and engaging in peace talks, officials said.
The position is at odds with official US policy.
The "dissent channel cable" was signed by about 50 mostly mid-level department officials who deal with US policy in Syria, according to officials who have seen the document.
It expresses clear frustration with America's inability to halt a civil war that has killed about half a million people and contributed to a worldwide refugee crisis, and goes to the heart of President Barack Obama's reluctance to enter the fray.
Mr Obama called for regime change early on in the conflict and threatened military strikes against Syrian forces after blaming President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons in 2013, but he only has authorised strikes against Islamic State and other US-designated terror groups in Syria.
While Washington has provided military assistance to some anti-Assad rebels, it has favoured diplomacy over armed intervention as a means of ushering Syria's leader out of power. A series of partial ceasefires in recent months have only made the war slightly less deadly, and offered little hope of a peace settlement.
The dissent document was transmitted internally in a confidential form and has since been classified, said officials. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both quoted from the document, saying they had seen or obtained copies.
The Journal said it called for "targeted air strikes", and the Times quoted a section urging a "judicious use of stand-off and air weapons" to advance the US diplomatic effort led by secretary of state John Kerry.
"The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable," the Times quoted the document as saying. "The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges."
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the department was reviewing the cable, which arrived via a "vehicle in place to allow State Department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues".
Some sentiments expressed in the cable mirror arguments Mr Kerry has made in internal administration debates. Mr Kerry, a forceful advocate of Mr Obama's initial plan to launch air strikes after Assad's use of chemical weapons, reversed course after the president opted against them. He has complained privately that White House resistance to more intervention has hurt efforts to persuade Russia, in particular, to take a tougher tone with Assad.
While defending the administration's overall approach to Syria, Mr Kerry has on more than one occasion told associates and colleagues that he does not have "a lot of arrows in his quiver" when he tries to persuade Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to put more pressure on Assad to comply with the truce, allow more humanitarian aid deliveries or begin negotiations on a genuine political transition.
At the same time, Mr Kerry has also hinted that more robust US intervention is a distinct possibility. In Norway this week, he told a conflict resolution conference that American patience with Assad and Russia was running out and suggested a greater American role might be inevitable unless things changed.
"Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite," he said at the Oslo Forum. "In fact, it is very limited now with respect to whether or not Assad is going to be held accountable."