Kerry to Lavrov and Putin: Assad Can Stay

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He announced that the meeting tentatively scheduled for New York on Friday of the Vienna group would go forward.

Kerry reiterated that the U.S. does not think Bashar Assad can bring peace to Syria, but that the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad,” but on reaching a peace agreement in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”

This has been Putin’s policy all along — that Syrians, not foreign interests, must decide on the Syrian government. That concept was agreed to in Vienna, but Obama nonetheless continued ranting that “Assad must go.”

Kerry went further, and said that Syrian opposition’s demand that Assad must leave as soon as peace talks begin was a “non-starting position, obviously.”

There are still problems to resolve, such as which rebel groups in Syria should be allowed to participate in the transition process and which should be deemed terrorists. Jordan is working on finalizing such a list.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking to the press with Kerry after the meeting with Putin, hailed what he described as a “big negotiating day,” saying the sides advanced efforts to define what a Syrian transition process might look like.

Kerry also referred to Ukraine with a very different tone than Obama, who hysterically describes Russia as isolated and collapsing economically due to his sanctions policy — which has harmed Western Europe more than Russia. Kerry said: “We don’t seek to isolate Russia as a matter of policy, no,” and said that the moves toward peace in Ukraine can lead to the sanctions being removed.

Kerry also announced that the meeting in New York tentatively scheduled for Friday, comprising the nations that have met twice in Vienna to discuss the Syrian issue, will now go forward.

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