Mar 15, 2015 10:55 AM

Kerry would be willing to talk with Syria's Assad

The Associated Press

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be willing to talk with Syrian President Bashar Assad to help broker a political resolution to the country's civil war.

Kerry said in an interview with CBS News that the U.S. is pushing for Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to help end Syria's four-year conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people, given rise to the Islamic State group and destabilized the wider Middle East.

"We have to negotiate in the end," Kerry said. "What we're pushing for is to get him to come and do that, and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds."

The Obama administration has long pushed for a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, and helped bring the Assad government and the Western-backed opposition to the negotiating table in early 2014.

Those talks collapsed without making any headway, however, and there has been no serious effort as of yet to revive them.

"We've made it very clear to people that we are looking at increased steps that can help bring about that pressure," Kerry said, without elaborating on what those steps might be.

Syria's state news agency reported Kerry's comments in full. It also said Damascus has called for a political solution before, and accused the U.S. of undermining such efforts, militarizing the conflict and supporting terrorists.

The U.S. has provided financial support to the opposition Syrian National Coalition, and non-lethal assistance to mainstream armed rebel groups that are opposed to Assad.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Syrian government repeatedly and publicly agreed to international peace efforts while simultaneously ignoring the commitments it has made under them.

It also has refused to discuss any proposal to usher Assad out of power.

Assad's Western-backed opponents, for their part, maintain that Assad can have no role in the country's future, and that any negotiated settlement must be based on the so-called Geneva roadmap, which envisions a political transition in Syria toward democracy by the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers.

The latest attempt to bring the sides together took place in January in Moscow, but the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition shunned the meeting because it did not aim to create a transitional government and remove Assad.

The U.S. joined talks in Switzerland with Assad's foreign minister and members of the U.S.-backed moderate Syrian opposition a year ago, but those talks also failed when Assad's representatives refused to discuss how to create a transition government.

"Everybody agrees there is no military solution; there's only a political solution," Kerry said. "But to get the Assad regime to negotiate, we're going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating. That's underway right now."

Kerry provided no additional details.

He spoke with CBS before leaving Egypt for Lausanne, where he was to resume negotiations with Iran on that country's nuclear program.


Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas in Beirut contributed to this report.


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