Now Kerry Says US is ‘Not Seeking So-Called Regime Change’ in Syria

By Patrick Goodenough | December 15, 2015 | 8:20pm EST
Syrian President Bashar Assad holds discussions with then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, in Damascus on November 8, 2010. (Photo: SANA)

( – “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change as it is known, in Syria,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Moscow Tuesday after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key ally of Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking more than four years after President Obama first called publicly for Assad to step down, Kerry said the U.S. and Russian governments “want the same outcomes” in Syria.

Differences between Washington and Moscow over the future of Assad have dogged attempts to find a political solution to the civil war for more than three years.

“As I emphasized today, the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change as it is known, in Syria,” Kerry said in a joint press briefing with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“What we have said is that we don’t believe that Assad himself has the ability to be able to lead the future Syria, but we didn’t – we focused today not on our differences about what can or can’t be done immediately about Assad,” he said.

“We focused on a process – on the political process whereby Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria. But we do believe that nobody should be forced to choose between a dictator and being plagued by terrorists. Our challenge remains creating the conditions on which an alternative can emerge.”

Kerry said the U.S. and Russia do not “see eye-to-eye on every single aspect of Syria, we certainly agreed today – and President Putin agreed – that we see Syria fundamentally very similarly. We want the same outcomes. We see the same dangers. We understand the same challenges.”

In Riyadh last week, representatives of a cross-section of Syrian opposition groups met to discuss their positions ahead of more rounds of talks under the auspices of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), aimed at ending the civil war.

A reporter noted that those groups decided that Assad “should go right at the start of a political transition process” and asked Kerry whether he thought negotiations could even begin on that basis.

Kerry called that “a non-starting position,” saying it was not the position of the ISSG or of the Geneva communique (a 2012 document calling for the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria on the basis of “mutual consent” between regime and opposition representatives.)

“So for those people who are going to participate, they understand we are participating under the Geneva communique, and the transition process is geared to try to be taking effect within about a six-month period,” he added.

The ISSG comprises the United States, Russia, Britain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, together with the U.N., European Union and Arab League.

In calling for Assad to step down, the Obama administration has repeatedly argued that the dictator serves as a magnet and recruiting aid for the jihadists of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other groups engaged in the conflict.

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