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John Kerry: ‘Long-Term Presence’ of Assad in Syria Necessary to Peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that he was ready to talk with the Russians about the ongoing civil war in Syria, and Moscow’s continuing presence there.

“The president believes that a mil-to-mil conversation is an important next step, and I think, hopefully, will take place very shortly,” Kerry said, according to the New York Times.

The talks with Vladimir Putin’s Russia will “define some of the different options that are available to us as we consider next steps in Syria,” he said, adding that the United States remained committed to defeating the Islamic State terror group.

However, Kerry backtracked from the previously-held U.S. position on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Obama administration for years has held to the position that Assad must step down from his position of leadership.

“Our focus remains on destroying ISIL and also on a political settlement with respect to Syria, which we believe cannot be achieved with the long-term presence of Assad,” he said.

But then Kerry added: “But we’re looking for ways in which to try to find a common ground. Clearly, if you’re going to have a political settlement, which we’ve always argued is the best and only way to resolve Syria, you need to have conversations with people, and you need to find a common ground.”

Kerry’s announcement was followed by a phone conversation between U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. It was the first time that the two had spoken since Carter was sworn in as Defense Secretary, the report notes. According to the Pentagon, the two agreed to talk about “mechanisms for deconfliction.” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that the talks were “constructive.” Carter and Shoigu “talked about areas where the United States and Russia’s perspectives overlap, and areas of divergence.”

Secretary Kerry was in London Friday for a meeting with the foreign minister of the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayed. He then plans to meet with British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond on Saturday. At the end of the weekend, he will travel to Germany to meet with Berlin officials about the Syrian refugee crisis.

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