Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday he is willing to negotiate personally with Syrian President Bashar Assad to end that country’s 4-year-old war.
With 215,000 dead and no sign that the Syrian civil war is about to wind down, the United States and its allies are looking for new ways to build pressure on Assad to come to the bargaining table, Kerry said.
“We are working very hard with interested parties to see if we can re-ignite a diplomatic outcome,” Kerry told CBS News during a visit to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. “We will have to negotiate in the end.”
Kerry was in Egypt to talk with that country’s leaders about economic development efforts before flying to Washington to resume negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
In the interview, Kerry gave no hint about what leverage the United States or other countries hoped to use to try to force Assad to negotiate. In the past, U.S. officials have hoped to build pressure on the regime by supporting relative moderates in the Syrian opposition. But those groups have been weakening, as the Islamic State terrorist group has gained strength and seized territory in Syria and Iraq.
Many observers have been expecting the Obama administration to soften its attitude toward Assad. The administration views Islamic State as more of a threat than Assad, and it is hoping to successfully conclude its nuclear negotiations with Iran, which is the most important backer of the Syrian government.
But a State Department spokeswoman said Kerry’s statement did not signal a new U.S. willingness to work with Damascus, or any shift in policy.
“Policy remains same and is clear: there is no future for Assad in Syria and we say so all the time,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said in an online statement.