Washington: The United States suggested today that if Syria continues to block efforts to drop food aid to its besieged communities that Russia might want to use its own planes for the task.
Foreign capitals have asked the World Food Program to plan an air bridge to save thousands of Syrian civilians facing starvation in communities besieged by Bashar al-Assad's forces.
But Assad has refused to permit such flights and on the ground his troops block UN road convoys in some areas or to remove vital supplies from others before they reach rebel-held towns.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Russia, which with Washington is co-chair of the International Syrian Support Group, had passed on a Syrian offer to permit one convoy on Friday.
But he expressed skepticism that Assad would indeed allow unfettered humanitarian access to the town of Daraya and said that this would not be enough in any case to meet its needs.
The spokesman went on to accuse Russia of not living up to its commitment, made at a May 17 ISSG meeting in Vienna, to push Assad to support the planned UN humanitarian air drops.
"We are obviously disappointed, to put it mildly," Toner told reporters, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"But, you know, you talk about air assets and permission, and Russia actually has air assets on the ground in Syria and ostensibly has the permission of the Syrian government to fly."
Asked if this meant he was suggesting that Russia itself carry out the food drops, since Assad was unlikely to block his ally's flights, Toner said: "I am suggesting."
"They are on the ground with air assets in Syria and are able to carry out these kinds of operations," he added.
Later, a senior State Department official confirmed that Washington was "throwing down a gauntlet" to see if Moscow was serious about aiding beleaguered Syrian civilians.