State Department press secretary Jen Psaki insisted this morning that the Obama administration wasn’t capitulating to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad — the president that the White House once said had to go — with Secretary of State John Kerry’s new desire for talks.
“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome. Why? Because everybody agrees there is no military solution. There is only a political solution,” Kerry told CBS in an interview aired Sunday.
The Syrian revolution began four years ago yesterday, after Assad began mowing down peaceful protesters hoping the Arab Spring fervor could sweep the dictator out of office. The conflict escalated when he used chemical weapons on men, women and children, and he continues to drop barrel bombs and use chlorine gas on the populace today. Syria has since opened as a terrorist haven for ISIS and other groups, with Assad’s forces and terrorists generally leaving each other alone as the regime makes oil deals with the groups. Assad’s alliances with Iran and Russia have also grown stronger in the face of international isolation.
Some quarter-million people have died in Syria in the past four years.
“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,” Kerry told CBS. “That’s underway right now. And — and I am convinced that with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad.”
Asked if he’d be willing to negotiate with Assad, Kerry replied, “Well, we have to negotiate in the end.”
Psaki told CNN this morning that U.S. policy on Assad “has not shifted.”
“I’ll just remind everyone that for more than two years we’ve been talking about how there has to be a political process. That’s what Secretary Kerry was referring to. The process has been on hold for some time. But there’s no question that in order to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people the international committee would need to bring both sides to the table together,” she said. “But Assad has lost legitimacy. The United States government absolutely continues to believe that. We don’t see a future for him in Syria.”
“…You can’t have the opposition negotiating with itself. You certainly wouldn’t get very far. So our goal continues to be, as does the goal of the international community, bringing both sides together. That’s not a process that’s ongoing or that exists right now… We would love to reboot the process because that’s the only way we can see bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Psaki said Kerry is discussing Syria peace talks with Russia, which has been selling Assad weapons used against civilians, and with Gulf countries.
Assad undercut Kerry’s effort by going on Iranian TV to say, “Any talk on the future of the Syrian president is for the Syrian people, and all the declarations from outside do not concern us.”
“Well, I think we have to take anything Bashar al-Assad says with a huge chunk of, grain of salt here because he has killed tens of thousands of his own people,” Psaki responded. “I think the international community is not going to stand by and accept his word that he’s thinking of the people of his country and we’re going to continue to think of ways to put necessary pressure on. That includes diplomatic ways.”
“…To be clear, nobody sees a future for Assad in Syria, not the United States, not anyone in the international community who’s been on the side of the opposition and on the side of the Syrian people. We’re talking about how to exert any kind of pressure we can exert.”
Psaki said if Assad is someone “who, as he claims, cares about the people in his country,” then diplomatic pressure “is something he should be responsive to.”
Syrian activists responded angrily on Twitter to Kerry’s comments, noting it was the administration’s “red line” weasel that enabled Assad to continue his genocide.