U.S. says Assad must go, timing down to negotiation

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has to step down but the timing of his departure had to be decided through negotiation. Kerry is in London for talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 19, 2015) (REUTERS) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has to go but the timing of his departure should be decided through negotiation.

Speaking after talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London, Kerry called on Russia and Iran to use their influence over Assad to convince him to negotiate a political transition.

Kerry said the United States welcomed Russia’s involvement in tackling the Islamic State in Syria but a worsening refugee crisis underscored the need to find a compromise that could also lead to political change in the country.

“We need to get to the negotiation. That’s what we’re looking for. And we hope Russia and any, Iran, with other countries with influence will help to bring about that, because that’s what’s preventing this crisis from ending,” said Kerry.

“We’re prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table?”

Russia’s buildup at Syria’s Latakia airbase has raised the possibility of air combat missions in Syrian airspace. Heavy Russian equipment, including tanks, helicopters and naval infantry forces, have been moved to Latakia, U.S. officials say.

Kerry said of Assad’s removal: “The last year and a half we have said that Assad has to go but how long, what the modality is, that’s a decision that has to be made in the context of the Geneva process and negotiations.”

Kerry added, “We’ve said for some period of time that it doesn’t haven’t to be on day one or month one or whatever. There’s a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”

Kerry said he did not have a specific time frame in mind for Assad to stay.

” We’ve been open, we’ve made it very clear that we’re not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time. We’re open. But right now, Assad has refused to have a serious discussion and Russia has refused to bring him to the table in order to do that. So, that’s why we’re where we are.”

Hammond, who on Sept. 9 said Britain could accept Assad staying in place for a transition period, said Assad could not be part of Syria’s long-term future “but the modality and timing has to be part of a political solution that allows us to move forward,” he added.

Hammond said the situation in Syria was now more complicated with Russia’s increased military involvement in the country.

“…Because of the Russian engagement, the situation in Syria is becoming more complicated, er, and I think we need to discuss this as part of a much bigger problem -the migration pressures, er, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as well as the need to defeat ISIL,” he said.

Kerry and Hammond said they also discussed conflicts in Yemen, Libya and Ukraine.

The United States opposes Russia’s support for Assad, and the Pentagon last year cut off high-level discussions with Moscow after its annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine.

Kerry has stressed that talks with Moscow over Syria are separate from action on Ukraine. “There is no tradeoff with respect to Syria,” he said in a Channel 4 News interview on Friday (September 18). “Syria is another set of consideration and is not subject to bargaining, bartering with respect to Ukraine,” he added.

But Russia’s buildup at Syria’s Latakia airbase raises the possibility of air combat missions in Syrian airspace. Heavy Russian equipment, including tanks, helicopters and naval infantry forces, have been moved to Latakia, U.S. officials say.

Recently, a Syrian military source said that troops had started to use new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia.

Kerry will be visiting Berlin on Sunday (September 20).

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