MESOP LATEST : Kerry Sees Transitional Syrian Government Without Assad

VOA News – May 10, 2013 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has toughened his stance on the fate of Syria’s president, saying Bashar al-Assad cannot be part of a transitional government that would try to lead the country out of its civil war.Kerry made the comment Thursday in Rome at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

“The foreign minister will work with us, as they have, to try to bring all the parties to the table so that we can effect a transition government by mutual consent of both sides, which clearly means that, in our judgment, President Assad will not be a component of that transitional government,” Kerry told reporters.

The comment appears to clarify the U.S. stance.

On Tuesday, Kerry said it is “impossible” for him as an “individual” to see President Assad governing Syria in the future, but he added that the Syrian president’s fate is not for him to decide.

That comment came in a Moscow meeting with the foreign minister of Russia, which has insisted that only Syrians should determine the future of Mr. Assad, a longtime Russian ally.

In his Rome remarks on Thursday, Kerry also announced an additional $100 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for the Syrian people. He said the aid includes $43 million to help Jordan to deal with the influx of more than half a million Syrian refugees from the two-year conflict. Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh said Amman appreciates the assistance from its U.S. ally. He said Syrian refugees constitute 10 percent of Jordan’s population and warned the figure could rise to 40 percent by the middle of next year at the current rates of entry. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed this week to call an international conference later this month to launch peace talks between the Syrian government and rebels fighting to oust Mr. Assad. The talks would be based on a June 2012 Geneva peace plan backed by major powers. It calls for the formation of a transitional government leading to elections, but does not specify Mr. Assad’s political future. The Syrian foreign ministry said Thursday it welcomes what it called the U.S.-Russian “rapprochement.” It expressed confidence that Syrian ally Russia will maintain a “firm stance” against foreign interference in the internal affairs of any state. But, Damascus said the credibility of U.S. support for a political solution depends on Washington working with its allies to stop “terrorism” – the term used by the Assad government to describe the rebellion. Syria’s main opposition coalition told VOA on Wednesday that any political solution to the civil war must begin with Mr. Assad and top security officials leaving power. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez says if a political solution is not possible, he wants the Obama administration to have congressional support for arming Syrian rebels. In an interview with VOA’s sister television network Alhurra, Menendez said he is working on Senate legislation that would give President Barack Obama permission to provide shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, or MANPADS, to “thoroughly vetted” opposition elements.

“I think it may change the calculus of Russia and others if in fact the rebels can ultimately succeed in having military victories against Assad, and that would move us closer to an opportunity where a political solution can take place,” he said.A report published Thursday by The Wall Street Journal said Russia could soon provide sophisticated ground-to-air missiles to the Syrian government. It said Israel has warned the United States that Syria has begun making payments for Russian-made S-300 missile batteries that could complicate any Western or Israeli military action against Damascus. The report said Israel believes an initial delivery is due in three months.