Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News that the United States is now willing to negotiate with (and accept as a legitimate ruler) Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a striking contrast from the administration’s prior insistence that regime change would be the only tolerated approach for Damascus.
“We have to negotiate in the end,” said Kerry. “We’ve always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process,” he added, which referred to a 2012 conference that called for a negotiated end to the Syrian Civil War.
As the Syrian Civil War enters its fifth year, an unofficial death toll estimate is approaching a quarter-million people. Many of the deceased were innocent civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that 10,000 children have been killed in the conflict so far. Furthermore, estimates state that the war has displaced over half of the country’s civilian population.
“What we’re pushing for is to get him (Assad) to come and do that, and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds in order to do that,” said Secretary Kerry. “We’ve made it very clear to people that we are looking at increased steps that can help bring about that pressure.”
To get the Assad regime to negotiate, we’re going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating. That’s under way right now. And I am convinced that, with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad.
Following the interview, the U.S. State Department — which is led by Secretary Kerry — backed away from Kerry’s comments that the U.S. was willing to negotiate with Assad.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf claimed that Kerry was not referring specifically to Assad, and that the U.S. would not negotiate with him.
On Monday, Assad responded to Kerry’s comments on Syrian state television.
“We are still hearing the declarations and we should wait for actions and then decide,” said Assad. “Any talk on the future of the Syrian president is for the Syrian people and all the declarations from outside fo do not concern us,” he added.