Aleppo teeters but no sign of US action

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(CNN) -

As Aleppo teeters on the brink of falling to Syrian regime forces, there is no consensus in the Obama administration on what, if any, action to take to help the beleaguered opposition with which the US is allied, several American officials have told CNN.

The administration may have less than a week before regime and Russian attacks result in Aleppo's collapse, potentially displacing tens of thousands of civilians and worsening the strategic environment for the United States, according to one internal US government calculation.

    The Obama administration has blamed Russia for the collapse of a ceasefire negotiated more than a week ago by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which would have stopped the fighting around Aleppo and paved the way for joint US-Russian military cooperation against terrorist groups in Syria.

    In a phone call with Lavrov on Wednesday, Kerry threatened to "suspend US-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria ... unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities," according to a State Department statement.

    But Kerry has said there are no good alternatives to working with Russia, and the US has little leverage to force Russia's hand given the reluctance of the White House to risk a military confrontation in which US planes could be shot down by Moscow.

    A senior administration official told CNN Tuesday that interagency discussions are taking place and that many across the administration feel the US should intervene militarily to keep Aleppo in opposition hands.

    But there is little sense that the White House is ready to take military steps and there is no indication that President Barack Obama has yet been presented with any such options or even asked for them.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest expressed concern Tuesday that arming the opposition "only further militarizes a situation that doesn't have a military solution."

    However, he noted that the situation in Aleppo "continues to be of deep concern to the President and his national security team, and it's something that we're going to continue to closely monitor."

    Earnest said the US is looking for "creative ways" to expedite delivery of humanitarian assistance, describing it as the "prominent goal" of diplomatic efforts.

    The US has assembled an international coalition to fight ISIS and other terror groups that have established safe havens in the chaos of the Syrian civil war. But it has not taken military action to boost the rebels, even as it has sided with the moderate opposition and called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close Russian ally, to step aside.

    The White House has faced criticism for not doing more to help Syrian civilians caught in the conflict, particularly in the blockaded city of Aleppo. Many Aleppo residents have already fled, contributing to the massive Syrian refugee crisis, but those who remain have faced food shortages, a lack of medicine and chemical attacks.

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