Kerry: Syria’s Assad Could Help With Transition, ‘Then Go Off Into the Sunset’

Patrick Goodenough | September 30, 2015 | 4:19am EDT
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The U.S. and its European and Arab partners say President Bashar al-Assad has no future as Syria's leader; Russia and Iran say that's not for outside powers to decide. (AP Photo, File)

( – The violence in Syria could end “within a very short period of time,” and a “complete ceasefire” could be put in place if President Bashar al-Assad simply announced that he does not have to be part of the country’s long-term future but would “help manage Syria out of this mess and then go off into the sunset,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.

The comments, in an interview with MSNBC, suggested the U.S. may now be willing to see Assad play some as-yet undefined role in a “managed transition” – rather than have to depart at the beginning of such a process.

They also suggested that the U.S. would be prepared to see Russia and Iran, Assad’s main allies, be a part of the process.

“You could end this violence within a very short period of time, have a complete ceasefire – which Iran could control, which Russia could control, which Syria could control, and which we and our coalition friends could control – if one man would merely make it known to the world that he doesn’t have to be part of the long-term future; he’ll help manage Syria out of this mess and then go off into the sunset, as most people do after a period of public life,” Kerry said.

“If he were to do that, then you could stop the violence and quickly move to management.”

Later in the interview, Kerry made the point again – this time characterizing Assad’s role as one in which “we all work together.”

“Assad himself could save this whole process by saying, ‘I will engage in a managed transition where we all work together to stabilize the government, save the institutions of government, and turn on ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS] and preserve Syria.’ ”

“That could happen,” Kerry continued. “It all depends on one man.”

Differences over the future of Assad have dogged attempts to negotiate a political resolution to the civil war for years, with the U.S. and its Western and Arab partners resolved that he must go, and Russia and Iran adamant that that’s not a decision outsiders should be making.

The divisions were again evident in the speeches President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.

Obama called for “a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.”

Putin reiterated his argument that it was “a big mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian authorities and government forces who valiantly fight terrorists on the ground,” adding that Assad’s forces and Kurdish militia “are the only forces really fighting terrorists in Syria.”

According to the U.N. more than 250,000 Syrians have died in the civil war that began in 2011 and has become increasingly complicated with the spread of ISIS and other jihadist and extremist groups; a campaign of U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS; and outside support for the various parties to the conflict, including most recently the arrival of Russian military assets.

Speaking at a U.N. summit in New York Tuesday on tackling ISIS, Obama said defeating the terrorists would require “a new leader [in Syria] and an inclusive government that unites the Syrian people in the fight against terrorist groups.”

“This is going to be a complex process,” he said. “And as I’ve said before, we are prepared to work with all countries, including Russia and Iran, to find a political mechanism in which it is possible to begin a transition process.”

Underlining the growth of the terror threat posed to the U.S. homeland as the conflict drags on, a U.S. House Homeland Security committee taskforce report released Tuesday said more than 250,000 foreign fighters have now traveled to Syria to join the jihadists, including at least 4,500 Westerners.

“More than 250 individuals from the United States have also joined or attempted to fight with extremists in the conflict zone,” the report stated.

“Despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists. Of the hundreds of Americans who have sought to travel to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq, authorities have only interdicted a fraction of them,” it said. “Several dozen have also managed to make it back into America.”

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