Secretary of State John Kerry described on Thursday the United States’ gradual effort to build coalitions and transition out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry said Assad’s intractable civil war gave rise to the Islamic State group, which he called the “embodiment of evil in our time.”
“History doesn’t matter to Daesh, human dignity doesn’t matter to Daesh, and the sacredness of life itself is alien to Daesh,” Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
His remarks, delivered at the U.S. Institute of Peace, came on the eve of this weekend’s G20 summit in Turkey, where Syria will be discussed.
He said by working with a 65-member coalition, some progress was made against the militants. They are now unable to operate in 20-25 percent of the territory they controlled a year ago. And fighters in Iraq and Syria have been able to take back strategic sites, including oil refineries that the Islamic State group was using to raise funds.
Last year, he continued, the militants had control of more than half of Syria’s border with Turkey, and now they hold only 15 percent, and forces have a plan to free the remainder.
Kerry said military force is not the only answer. “We need to consider every single option” to resolving the crisis, while continuing to work on a diplomatic solution to transitioning Assad out of power, he said.
More than a dozen countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, met in Vienna last month and came to an agreement on certain tenets on Syria. They agreed the Syrian war must come to an end; to support Syria’s unity, independence and territorial integrity; and that Syria’s institutions must remain intact “so we don’t have an implosion like we saw in Iraq.”
The countries agreed to increase support for Syria’s internally displaced population and refugees, and said the United Nations should convene members of the Syrian government and opposition to negotiate the terms of an inclusive government, new constitution and new elections under the supervision of the U.N., he said.
“This is not about imposing anything on anyone,” he added. “We are trying to create a framework that will ignite the U.N. negotiating process,” and the Syrians have said they need help to get there.
Kerry acknowledged the U.S. is still working out with Iran and Russia the role of Assad, saying Syrians no longer trust him so allowing him to stay is “literally a non-starter.”
But it was important for the sake of allies in the region and all Syrians to keep working on a solution, he concluded, even if they don’t know how long it will take.