John Kerry: Assad has got to go – eventually

In a sign of increased willingness to negotiate a solution to the Syrian conflict, Kerry said Assad’s removal 'doesn’t have to be on day one or month one.'

Evan Vucci/AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry answers questions about the ongoing crisis in Syria during a news conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in London.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has to go – but the timing is negotiable, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.  

Speaking after talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Kerry called on Russia and Iran to use their influence to bring President Assad to the table, Reuters reports.

"We’re prepared to negotiate," Kerry said at a news conference in London. "Is Assad prepared to negotiate? Really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table and actually find the solution to this violence?"

But foreign partners must play their role, he emphasized. "We’ve made it very clear, we’re not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time," he said. "We’re open. But right now, Assad has refused to have a serious discussion, and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that. So that’s why we’re where we are."

Russia and Iran are key supporters of the Assad regime and "have provided diplomatic, financial, military, and material support to help his regime stave off the challenge posed by opposition groups," The Christian Science Monitor's Nicholas Blanford noted Friday.

Russia has been building military support for Assad over recent weeks, posing a threat to American and allied military forces, Kerry argues. 

Assad's removal "doesn't have to be on day one or month one or whatever," said Kerry. "I just know that the people of Syria have already spoken with their feet. They are leaving Syria."

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict four years ago, more than 200,000 Syrians have been killed. More than 4 million have sought refuge abroad and more than 7 million are internally displaced, according to the UN.

The Syrian conflict has contributed to the migrant crisis in Europe, where an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants are overwhelming infrastructures.

Earlier this month, President Obama told his administration to take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the next fiscal year. So far, the US has taken in fewer than 1,500 Syrian refugees, the vast majority this year.

In his comments, Kerry indicated that the US is willing to partner with Russia in some efforts, including fighting Islamic State militants, but not if that means supporting Assad, the Washington Post reported.

"Would we welcome Russia’s help in going against ISIL?" he asked. "Obviously."

He continued, "The other part of the equation is Assad, and how do you resolve the fact he is a magnet for foreign fighters who come to the region, which is in the end is ISIL. There’s a lack of logic if ... they’re bringing in more equipment, shoring up Assad, and say they’re going after ISIL. That has to be resolved in our conversations in the next days."

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