Kerry, at Syria talks in London, says peace through negotiations is still possible – Washington Post
LONDON — Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday that the leaders of Syria’s moderate opposition are still weighing whether to join a peace conference next month in Geneva, even as he added his voice to a chorus of 10 other nations calling for a renewed commitment to negotiations to end Syria’s bloody civil war.
“This war will not come to an end on the battlefield,” Kerry said at a press conference in London after talks on the crisis. “It will come to an end through a negotiated settlement.”
Kerry met with foreign ministers from the “London 11” — a core group from the Friends of Syria group consisting of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States — and with senior Syrian opposition leaders.
The London meeting was intended to help lay the groundwork for the peace talks in the Swiss city, with the goal of the opposing sides in Syria — representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the rebels – coming together to establish a transitional governing body.
However, it was unclear after Tuesday’s talks whether the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, would attend talks in Geneva as a united front.
The Syrian National Council, a prominent group with representatives in the Syrian Opposition Coalition, had said previously it would boycott the Geneva meeting, saying it would not deal with representatives of Assad’s government.
Still, Kerry said he thought that it could happen. “I believe that the conference can happen next month. I’m hoping it will happen next month,” he said. “Obviously there are other players. . . . They are independent, and they have to exercise own rights here.”
William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, said that the Syrian Opposition Coalition would decided its position at its general assembly in a few weeks’ time.
But if the moderate opposition fails to play a key role in the peace process, “then all the Syrian people have got left is to chose between Assad on the one hand and extremist” forces on the other, Hague told the BBC on Tuesday.
Hague said that the extremist groups were an increasing threat in the Syrian conflict that has killed over 100,000 and displaced millions. “I am in no way glossing over or minimizing the danger of extremism taking hold,” he said. “That is why we are making this renewed effort to get a Geneva peace process going.”
The London meeting comes a day after Assad suggested in a television interview that he could seek reelection in 2014, indicating he has no plans to step aside.
But a communiqué issued after the London meeting made clear that Western and Arab nations at the gathering see “no role” for “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands” in a transitional governing body.
“The opposition is not saying that Assad has to go before this negotiation,” Kerry said, but added that as far as an interim government is concerned, “there isn’t anybody in the world who believes that the opposition is going to give consent to Assad to be part of that.”
Kerry also played down reports of a serious rift between the United States and Saudi Arabia over the conflict.
“We know that the Saudis were obviously disappointed that the strike didn’t take place and have questions about some of the other things that may be happening in the region,” he said, referring to a U.S. proposal to strike Syria over its use of chemical weapons.
He also added that on Iran, he and his Saudi counterpart had had a frank conversation Monday.
“I reaffirmed President Obama’s commitment that he will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and I reiterated our position in any negotiation that our eyes are wide open,” he said. “Actions are what will speak to us, not words, and no deal is better than a bad deal.”
But he stressed that the two countries are “on the same page” going forward, adding, “I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be close and important friends and allies.”
Both Kerry and Hague said they were open to the prospect of Iran, an ally of Assad’s, attending the Geneva talks, but they said it was realistic only if Iran backed the idea of a transitional government.