Kerry Accepts Russian Stance Over Syria

Kerry Accepts Russian Stance Over SyriaKerry Accepts Russian Stance Over Syria

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia’s longstanding demand that President Bashar Assad’s future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria’s civil war.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced, according to AP.

Kerry reiterated, however, the US position that Assad will not be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict.

But after a day of discussions with Assad’s key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.”

Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”

Kerry’s declarations crystallized the evolution in US policy on Assad over the last several months, as the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group’s growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority.

President Barack Obama first called on Assad to leave power in the summer of 2011. Later, American officials allowed that he wouldn’t have to resign on “Day One” of a transition. Now, no one can say when Assad might step down.

Russia, by contrast, has remained consistent in its view that no foreign government could demand Assad’s departure and that Syrians would have to negotiate matters of leadership among themselves.

Earlier Tuesday in the Kremlin, Putin noted several “outstanding issues” between Russia and its former Cold War foe. Beyond Assad, these include which rebel groups in Syria should be allowed to participate in the transition process and which should be deemed terrorists, and like the IS and Al-Qaeda, combated by all.

Jordan is working on finalizing the list of terrorist vs. legitimate opposition forces. Representatives of Syria’s opposition themselves hope this week to finalize their negotiating team for talks with Assad’s government. The US, Russia and others hope those talks will begin early next year.

Appearing beside Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hailed what he described as a “big negotiating day”, saying the sides advanced efforts to define what a Syrian transition process might look like.

The two countries also have split on Ukraine since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region last year and its ongoing, though diminished, support for separatists in the east of the country. The US has pressed severe economic sanctions against Russia in response and has insisted that Moscow’s actions have left it isolated.

That wasn’t the case on Tuesday.

“We don’t seek to isolate Russia as a matter of policy, no,” Kerry said. The sooner Russia implements a February ceasefire that calls for withdrawal of Russian forces and material, and a release of all prisoners, he said, the sooner “sanctions can be rolled back.”

The world is better off when Russia and the US work together, he added, calling Obama and Putin’s current cooperation a “sign of maturity”.

“There is no policy of the United States, per se, to isolate Russia,” Kerry stressed.