A State Department official on Tuesday struggled to answer why the U.S. has condemned Russian bombings in Syria for causing civilian deaths while simultaneously aiding the Saudi Arabia-led campaign in Yemen, which has done the same.
State Department spokesperson John Kirby faltered during a press conference in Washington, D.C. when Associated Press reporter Matt Lee said, "Over the weekend there was this air strike on a funeral by the Saudi-led coalition. I was just wondering: does the administration see any difference between this kind of thing, and what you accuse the Russians, Syrians, and the Iranians of doing in Syria, and particularly Aleppo?"
"Well," Kirby responded before taking a long pause. Then he continued, "Yeah. I think there are. Look, what...there's a couple things, Matt, um...the..."
He then paused again, seemingly unable to answer the question. As Lee, the AP's diplomatic correspondent, continued asking follow-up questions, Kirby noted that Saudi Arabia had launched an investigation into the strike, as opposed to the Russian and Syrian governments regarding their own bombings.
As Lee noted, however, Russia has in fact called for a probe into the bombing of an aid convoy near Aleppo last month that led to the suspension of peace talks with the U.S. and Syria. At least 330 people have reportedly died since the ceasefire between Russia and the U.S. collapsed in September.
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"It's not exactly been a clarion call for investigation," Kirby said. "What we're seeing in Aleppo is nothing but a concerted effort in recent days to...subdue that city by force."
According to the Independent, Lee then continued to push for an answer on how "an increasing number of Yemeni civilians are at risk and being killed by weapons that the United States has furnished to the Saudis and their coalition partners."
"You don't find any kind of issue with this? Because a lot of people do, including on [Capitol] Hill," he said.
Kirby responded, "The Saudi-led coalition were invited in by the Yemeni government—now I know what you're going to say, the Russians were invited by [Syrian President] Assad...but [the Saudis] are under real threat on their side of the border in that war."
The exchange comes just a day after a Reuters investigation revealed that the Obama administration approved a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite discussions among government lawyers whether doing so could implicate the U.S. in war crimes.