US Softening Stance on ‘Regime Change’ in Syria?

The United States may be softening its insistence that Syrian president Bashar Assad must be removed from power to resolve the Syrian crisis.

“The United States and its partners are not seeking regime change in Syria,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after a three-hour meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.

While the United States has for years declared Assad must be removed from power before free elections are held in Syria, the Russian position has maintained that the Syrian president must be a part of any vote.

U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has diplomatically taken the Russian side, saying in late October that “the future of Assad must be determined by the Syrian people.”

“I believe that the future of Syria, or the future of the peace talks, […] should not be held up by an issue of the future of one man,” Ban said. “I believe that it is up to the Syrian people who have to decide the future of President Assad.”

Kerry’s relaxing on the American position is not a sudden about-face. Last March, he said in an American interview that there was no military solution to the Syrian crisis and the U.S. would “have to negotiate” with Assad.

The Tuesday meeting was called after planned talks for Friday in New York were thrown into question. Putin raised objections to last week’s unprecedented rebel talks in Saudi Arabia, where some of the dozens of opposition groups fighting to overthrow Assad agreed to form a united group for negotiations with the Syrian president. Putin charged that several “terrorist” groups had taken part in the talks.

Kerry told a post-conference presser that the U.S. and Russia both view Syria’s future “in fundamentally the same way,” adding that he did bring up Washington’s concern “that some of Russia’s strikes have hit the moderate opposition” in Syria, and not just Daesh (ISIS).

“And I’m pleased to say he took that under advisement,” Kerry said.

Kerry had also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the day before. The two have openly talked about a U.N. Security Council resolution to underpin the Syria peace process. ABC News reports a ceasefire in Syria is planned for January 1, 2016. That ceasefire will not affect bombings of terrorist targets.

The plan is to establish a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian” transitional government that would set a schedule for drafting a new constitution and holding a U.N.-supervised election within 18 months.


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