Is progress being made on a political solution in Syria?

Secretary of State John Kerry met with counterparts from Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to work on finding a political settlement for the Syrian conflict, following a Moscow meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the state of play between the U.S. and Russia.

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    Secretary of State John Kerry met in Vienna today with his counterparts from Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in a renewed quest to find a political settlement for the war in Syria.

    He spoke to reporters afterwards.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Today, we came here aware of all of the pitfalls, aware of all of the hurdles. Every foreign minister here has been wrestling with this issue for a period of time. But we came here with a commitment to try to find new ideas for how to break the impasse and end the conflict.


    This came after an agreement Monday between the U.S. and Russian militaries on how to avoid accidental midair collisions as both countries bomb Syria. And also that day, Syrian President Assad met with President Putin in Moscow. It was the first time Assad has left Syria since the war began in 2011.

    For more on the state of play between the U.S. and Russia over Syria, we turn to NewsHour chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner, who has been following all of this.

    Margaret, thank you.

    So, we know that the U.S., Russia and these other countries have been trying for two years, at least, to talk about, to find a political settlement. No results. Today any different?


    It's very hard to tell, Judy.

    The one thing that indicates there maybe progress is that they agreed they are going to meet again next week, at the end of next week. Well, when Secretary Kerry said, well, people brought a lot of new ideas, publicly, we heard no new ideas. What we heard was the same mantra: We all agree it should be a united Syria, it should be democratic, and secular, and be diverse.

    But there was no resolution of this huge hump over Assad's future. And, you know, Turkey and Saudi want him gone now. Russia wants — afraid of the chaos that could result if he were to fall precipitously and wants him to stay. The U.S. is the only one that has shown nay leg on that. It was pretty clear from what Kerry said today that the U.S. is willing to consider a transition in which Assad may remain for a while.


    Margaret, what effect is Russia's military intervention in Syria, which the U.S. has not been happy with, what effect is that having on those talks?


    Well, it's interesting.

    Secretary Kerry has been telling aides that actually this could be an opportunity, that it could be an action-forcing event, even though, as you said, the U.S. was furious about this, because it strengthens Assad.

    But the fact is, it has given Russia a different seat at the table in terms of figuring out Syria's future. One, it means Russia has now a real interest in getting this resolved politically, or it's going to be sitting there — it's going to be bombing forever. It's going to be in a kind of military quagmire.

    So, it's also forced the United States, you have noticed, to up its game in Syria, more weapons to the rebels. It revived the discussion internally about whether to establish a no-fly zone. So, there is a feeling that, to a great extent, of course, the U.S. doesn't trust what Putin's up to, but that something may happen as a result.


    Now, what about the meeting that happened this week in Moscow where Assad flew to Moscow to meet with Putin? What's known about that?


    What is known about that, at least from Russian sources I have — and it was secondhand — is that, one, it was very chilly. As one said to me, no one likes Assad.

    Two, that Putin was very firm about, one, they wanted to coordinate Russian airpower with Syrian ground troops. He made it clear that Russia wasn't going to send in ground troops, but he also wanted to make sure the targeting was good so they didn't kill a mass of civilians, that the Russians didn't.

    But then they did discuss the transition, but I'm told that though they talked about the need for a diverse one, and Assad, of course, of course, that in fact Putin didn't pull the trigger and say, and, you know, Mr. President Assad, that will mean you have to go.

    So one person said to me, I have a feeling they were talking past each other.


    So, Margaret, if Putin wants some kind of improved relationship with the U.S., wants to work something out, what are the prospects for that happening?


    Well, the administration believes they're not great, but that if — there are two things he could do, one, change the targeting from 85 to 90 percent moderate rebels, which is who he is hitting now, instead of ISIS, and, two, really use his enhanced leverage now with Assad, because he's got Assad's back, to really push Assad to recognize that, ultimately, he has to agree to a process in which he goes.

    And why would we do that? One, because he's so eager to end his international isolation and the sanctions. And, two, as I referred to earlier, he now has reason to fear of being sucked into kind of military quicksand in Syria, if it just goes on and on and on and there's no political solution.


    Margaret Warner, some great reporting. We thank you.


    Thanks, Judy.

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