No room for Assad in Syria’s transition: US

No room for Assad in Syria’s transition: US

ROME - Agence France-Presse
No room for Assad in Syria’s transition: US

Residents and fighters walk along a street lined with damaged buildings in Deir ez-Zor. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said only Damascus and opposition militants can determine the identity of any transitional government. REUTERS photo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted today that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have to step down as part of any political solution in Syria, as he held a third day of talks on the two-year-old crisis.

Speaking as he met Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Rome, Kerry said all sides were working to “effect a transition government by mutual consent of both sides, which clearly means that in our judgment al-Assad will not be a component of that transitional government.”

His words came two days after the United States and Russia agreed in Moscow to push both sides in Syria to find an end to the bloodshed, offering to hold an international conference in search of peace on the Geneva accord by the end of this month. The Geneva agreement set out a path toward a transitional government without ever spelling out the fate of al-Assad.

Syria and the Arab League, meanwhile, welcomed the U.S.-Russian deal. “Syria welcomes the U.S.-Russian rapprochement. ... It is confident that the Russian position, which is based on the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law, will not change,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.

The head of the Arab League also welcomed the new effort. “This Russian-American cooperation to work together and directly constitutes a significant and positive development,” Nabil Elaraby said in a statement. Elaraby urged al-Assad’s government, the opposition National Coalition and all other Syrian parties to seize the opportunity to agree on the formation of a transitional government.

After meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said May 7 that only the Syrian government and the opposition could determine the makeup of a transitional government to shepherd the war-torn nation toward democratic elections.

Plans for an international conference to try to find a solution to the crisis were also continuing, Kerry said. There is a “very positive response and a very strong desire” to find a way forward, he said after a round of telephone calls with foreign ministers. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Kerry had a phone conversation late on May 8, with the latter informing his Turkish counterpart of his meetings with Russian leaders.

Kerry shared details of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov as well as his impressions about the Syrian crisis. Davutoğlu and Kerry both stated that the Syrian issue would be handled thoroughly in light of the current developments during Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington next week, according to Turkish diplomatic sources.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon had also been in touch, so “we are going to forge ahead very, very directly to work with all of the parties to bring that conference together,” Kerry said. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, meanwhile, met with the Syrian opposition in Istanbul on May 8 to discuss the way forward, Kerry said. Ford, who accompanied Kerry during his talks in Moscow, flew to Istanbul to press representatives of the Syrian opposition to agree to talks with an envoy of al-Assad.