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Washington says Assad must go, but timing 'negotiable'

Kerry says Wahington and West are ready to 'negotiate' with Assad [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 September, 2015

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US could accept a resolution to Syrian conflict that allows President Assad to remain in power for an unspecified time, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Russia's movement of tactical aircraft and surface-to-air missiles to Syria could pose a threat to American and allied forces.
Kerry also made clear that Washington could accept a resolution to the civil war that allows President Bashar

Assad to remain in power for an unspecified time.   

"We're prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table and actually find the solution to this violence?" Kerry told reporters after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London on Saturday. 

Hammond, who on Sept. 9 said Britain could accept Assad staying in place for a transition period, said Assad could not be part of Syria's long-term future "but the modality and timing has to be part of a political solution that allows us to move forward." 

Hammond said the situation in Syria was now more complicated with Russia's increased military involvement in the country. 

"Because of the Russian engagement the situation in Syria is becoming more complicated and we need to discuss this as part of a much bigger problem - the migration pressures, the humanitarian crisis in Syria as well as the need to defeat ISIL," he said.

     Members of the Islam Army warn the Russians that they will not enjoy peace in Syria.

US officials say Russia sent a small number of fighter jets to a base in Syria on Friday, hours after US Defence Secretary Ash Carter talked with Russia Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in the first military contacts between the two countries in some time.   

"Clearly, the presence of aircraft with air-to-air combat capacity ... and surface-to-air missiles raise serious questions," Kerry said. The Russians have deployed at least one such system, according to an American official who   spoke on condition of anonymity.  

Russia says its recent military buildup in Syria is designed to fight the Islamic State group. While IS lacks an air force, the Russian aircraft are capable of striking ground targets and providing close air support for ground forces.  

Russia's military moves in Syria are its first major expeditionary force deployment outside the former Soviet Union since the war in Afghanistan, the official said. 

Kerry said the military-to-military talks with the Russians are designed to make sure there are no incidents between Russian and American forces. The discussions also amount to a tacit acceptance of the Russian buildup, after weeks of warnings from Washington against any Russian escalation in Syria. 

The goal, Kerry said, is to make sure "there's no potential of a mistake or of an accident of some kind that produces a greater potential of conflict."   

Kerry also said the US considered Assad "a magnet" for foreign fighters who are filling the Islamic State group's ranks.  

"So there's a lack of logic," Kerry said, for the Russians to say "they are bringing in more equipment, shoring up Assad, at the same time they say they're going after" IS militants.   

Meantime, a Syrian rebel group claims it fired rockets at a coastal air base said to be used by Russian troops. In a video posted Friday, members of the Islam Army warn the Russians that they will not enjoy peace in Syria. The fighters are then are seen loading and launching multiple rockets from a mountainous area.   

"We declare that we are targeting the Basel airport that has been turned into a Russian base," says a fighter, standing in front of two masked men and the rocket launcher. 

Kerry and Hammond said they also discussed conflicts in Yemen, Libya and Ukraine.


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