Kerry says Obama has asked for new policy options on Syria
US Secretary of State John Kerry walks off after a news conference in Beijing. President Obama has asked for possible new Syria options, Kerry has said. REUTERS PhotoU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Feb. 14 that President Barack Obama has requested possible new policy options on Syria given the worsening humanitarian situation in the Arab republic.
“He has asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist. The answer to the question, ‘Have they been presented?’ No, they have not. But that evaluation, by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time,” Kerry told reporters during a visit to Beijing. “And when these options are ripe and when the president calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. administration said it stood by its policy on Syria, denying that Kerry had called for a change of strategy and the arming of opposition rebels.
Some U.S. media claimed the top diplomat had said Washington’s policy was failing. The reports, quoting Republican senators, said Kerry made the remarks at a meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.
“No one in the administration thinks we’re doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war has ended,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She told reporters she had taken part in the hour-long meeting with U.S. lawmakers in the German city, but insisted that “at no point did [Kerry] state what I think was quoted, that the process had failed.”
“They did have a discussion about a range of options that the administration has always had at its disposal,” she added.
According to Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Kerry admitted in Munich that “we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” Graham was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
But the White House hit back that this was wishful thinking “that reflects how Senator Graham and Senator McCain view our policy, not how Secretary Kerry views it.” White House spokesman Jay Carney added Obama believed “it is absolutely necessary to press for a negotiated political resolution to this conflict. There is no other alternative.”
Kerry’s latest statement came as the Syrian opposition said international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi planned to take Syrian peace talks into a third round.
“Brahimi just told us the talks will continue and there will be a third round, but he did not set a date,” opposition negotiator Ahmad Jakal told Reuters. Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said the opposition will not place conditions on the third round of peace talks in Geneva following two rounds of negotiations which have made no progress. “We are not putting conditions in the face of a third round. But so far we are saying we have not reached results,” Safi told reporters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of using Syrian the talks for the sole purpose of “regime change,” while Kerry suggested Moscow was backtracking on earlier commitments.
“The only thing they want to talk about is the establishment of a transitional governing body,” Lavrov said.
“Only after that are they ready to discuss the urgent and most pressing problems, like terrorism,” he added, speaking after meeting with the German foreign minister in Moscow. Kerry said in Beijing that agreeing on a transition government was the sole purpose of the talks in Geneva, adding that Lavrov had stood up beside him several times when Kerry said that was the purpose.
“There is no question about what this is about and any efforts to try to be revisionist or walk back or step away from that frankly is not … keeping faith with the words that have been spoken and the intent of this conference,” Kerry said.
On the ground, the United Nations warned that Syria was on watch over its treatment of hundreds of men and boys detained after being evacuated from the embattled city of Homs.
A total of 381 male evacuees from the opposition-held Old City district of Homs were still being held on Feb. 14 in a school building for questioning by Syrian security services, said U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
“We are consistently and continually calling on the government to ensure the safety and security of these people and to respect international and human rights law,” Fleming told reporters.
Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, said there were 14 boys between the ages of 15 and 18 still being held. Fleming said the concerns also applied to detainees who had been released, 170 were set free on Feb. 13, with the U.N. striving to keep track of them.
The detainees are among some 1,400 who have been evacuated thanks to a shaky U.N.-monitored truce in the city since last week. The opposition-held districts of Homs have been under siege by the Syrian government for 600 days, with an estimated 4,000 people facing daily bombardment and dwindling supplies.
“The mere fact of questioning people is not illegal in these circumstances. So what we’re looking out for is what next, what it leads to,” said Rupert Coville, spokesman for the U.N.’s human rights office.
“If someone is detained for a length a time, there needs to be a good reason. There should be a legal reason for it,” Colville said. “All we can do is really try and sharpen the spotlight on the situation, to flag the dangers of it and to point out the importance of really keeping an eye on what happens to these men and boys.”