The fallout over Secretary of State John Kerry’s implication that the United States is open to potentially negotiating with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continues, as Germany’s foreign minister now weighs in, suggesting that such negotiations may be necessary to minimize the loss of life in the ongoing Syrian Civil War and weaken the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
“The only way to an end to the violence is via negotiations for a political solution, even if that makes talks with the Assad regime necessary,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday during coalition talks about moving forward in the fight against the Islamic State.
The Islamic State is among Assad’s most formidable enemies. President Obama long ago ruled out any negotiation with Assad due to extensively chronicled evidence that Assad has violated international law by attacking civilians with chemical weapons during the civil war.
The United States’ position on negotiating with Assad appeared unshakable until this week, when Secretary of State Kerry said of the Syrian Civil War, “We have to negotiate in the end.” The State Department immediately denied that Kerry was referring to Assad personally, with spokesperson Marie Harf reiterating that America will “never” negotiate with Assad because he is an “illegitimate” leader.
Kerry’s statements have rekindled the debate over whether to negotiate with the leader of Syria or ignore him entirely. The government of France has responded with an adamant refusal to negotiate with Assad, as well. “The solution is a political transition which would preserve regime institutions, not Mr. Bashar al-Assad. … Any other solution which would keep Assad in the saddle would be an absolutely scandalous, gigantic gift to Daesh [ISIS],” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
In the Middle East, reactions have been mixed and predictable among partisan lines. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu responded publicly to Kerry’s statements with alarm, comparing Assad to Adolf Hitler. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood also issued a statement condemning Kerry for raising the possibility of talking to Assad. Meanwhile, Iran’s state media published an interview with an obscure American former congressional aid, in which the aid, Rodney Martin, claims that it is the United States, and not Assad, which “has lost its legitimacy.” Martin also implies that, because the United States has prisons, it cannot condemn Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
Assad himself appears little perturbed by the possibility that the American State Department may be on the cusp of opening up to negotiations with him. His reaction to Kerry’s initial statements was a simple one: “declarations from outside do not concern us.” He added that his regime would “wait for actions and then decide.”
Meanwhile, Assad has sent representatives to Moscow for peace talks with opposition leaders. Russia, a longtime ally of the Assad regime, is hosting the talks in the hope that the meeting will lead to a constructive resolution of some of the disputes between Assad and the rebels fighting him, lending further influence to Putin’s government internationally.