Kerry and Obama on same page on Syria?
February 13th, 2013
08:41 PM ET

Kerry and Obama on same page on Syria?

By Elise Labott

Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday he had some ideas on how to change Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's thinking about remaining in power, which he hopes will persuade the embattled leader to negotiate with the opposition on an end to the violence.

"We need to address the question of President Assad's calculation currently. I believe there are additional things that can be done to change his current perception," Kerry told reporters after meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, adding: "I've got a good sense of what I think we might propose."

Kerry didn't elaborate, but said he planned to discuss the ideas during his first official overseas trip. He is expected to visit European and Mideast capitals later this month, although the trip has not yet been announced

But his stated desire to find a new approach toward Syria belies a reluctance from the White House to become more actively involved. The United States has limited its support to humanitarian aid and nonlethal aid to the opposition, ruling out military intervention and arguing that supplying weapons to the rebels would only further militarize the conflict and risk arms ending up in the hands of extremists.

A day earlier, during his State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to keep pressure on the Syrian regime but did not renew calls made since August 2011 for al-Assad to step down. In a recent interview with New Republic magazine, the president signaled he is loath to bog the United States down in the Syrian conflict.

Warning about the dangers of the "implosion" of the Syrian state with continued violence, Kerry said the Obama administration wanted to see a negotiated solution to the conflict resulting in al-Assad's departure. Kerry noted comments by Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib, who has said he was willing to talk with the regime about a political solution.

"It may not be possible. I am not going to stand here and tell you that's automatic or easily achievable," Kerry said. "There are a lot of forces that have been unleashed here over the course of the last months."

But he pointed to an inevitability of al-Assad leaving power, which "hasn't sunk into him yet."

Kerry said part of al-Assad's "calculus" of staying in power centers around the financial and political support he enjoys from Russia, despite international criticism over its stance. Kerry said he was hopeful there "may be an equation where the Russians and the United States could, in fact, find more common ground than we have yet with respect to that."

Kerry's recent comments signal a clear desire to inject new ideas into U.S. policy toward the conflict in Syria, which after almost two years of violence has killed nearly 70,000 Syrians and seen the country spiraling into sectarian strife. Last week during a meeting with Canada's foreign minister, Kerry said the United States was evaluating new options to reduce the violence.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry was an early interlocutor for the Obama administration with al-Assad, even traveling to Damascus to meet with the Syrian leader. He eventually withdrew his support for al-Assad when he began using violence against the Syrian people. Kerry has since floated proposals to create safe havens for the opposition and arming rebel forces.

It is unclear whether Kerry still supports arming the opposition. Last week he refused to comment on a plan by former CIA Director David Petraeus, backed by his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to supply weapons to rebel forces.

Citing the threat of Jabhat al-Nusra - recently designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department - and the influx of fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq, Kerry stressed the challenges of a more activist approach.

"It is a very complicated and very dangerous situation," he said. "And everybody understands it is a place that has chemical weapons, and we are deeply concerned about that."

Still, Kerry's comments on Wednesday may raise expectations for his upcoming trip, where he is also expected to try to reactivate the stalled Mideast peace process.

"The window is closing on this possibility, the region knows it," Kerry said Wednesday. "It deserves our utmost consideration and it will get that."

His upcoming visit to the Mideast will lay the groundwork for a trip by President Obama to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in the spring. But Kerry warned against major breakthroughs, noting that it would be arrogant to propose a peace plan before hearing from leaders in the region.

"The president is not prepared at this point in time to do more than listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he is going to go to Israel," Kerry said. "I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices."

Kerry has signaled an early push to rekindle peace talks. His first calls in office were to Israeli and Palestinian leaders and during his confirmation he said he planned to renew efforts to bring the parties to the negotiating table.

But just as on Syria, Kerry's peace efforts will be limited by the political will of a White House that seems preoccupied with domestic issues, particularly the economy.

The newly minted secretary of state is bringing a new sense of urgency, said one administration official who follows the Middle East. "He sees there is some fresh thinking required. It's just a question what the political leadership in the administration will tolerate."

soundoff (47 Responses)
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  6. Elaine Lopez

    Keep Premier Assad. The opposition brings al kieda? and extremists with them. There's got to be a way of working with the present government.
    The extrem muslim regimes are finding every way to take over. Do Not Let Them!!!!

    February 17, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @Elaine Lopez,Assad is worse than Al Quada would ever be and who do think these Muslim extremists are working for but Assad himself..Get with the program lady you're outta touch and you know there is a Santa Claus right!!

      February 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  7. Abdullah

    I hope our new Secretary of state is not going to make same mistake Clinton did..
    Assad is not going no where. It is the best interests of this country he stay where he is.
    Those days that we could dictate to other what to do or not to do is gone..
    There are other supper power on this earth. WE should be worrying about our economy and our national deficits, and immigration problem. We should let the Syria and other countries mind their own business. It is not for us to decide who stays and who goes. Our priority should focus on arab israeli cinflict. We impose that jews on arabs and it was a big mistake. We are paying for that mistake and will for years to come unles we dispose israel all together.

    February 15, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • monty

      US did not impose Jews on Arabs.It was the UN .Who gave the Jews a nation.Are they angry because the Jews build a great nation out of the Desert.God gave this land to them long ago.Haven't you read that they are his chosen people.And now Arads are killing Arads.

      February 22, 2013 at 8:34 am | Reply
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    If military intervention is the only solution to the Syrian conflict, I believe every Arab-Muslim nation on earth has a military. Plus many of these nations are oil rich. Its time the Arab league does its job and leave us alone. Plus we're still trying to finish the wars the GOP left unfinished.

    February 15, 2013 at 9:18 am | Reply
    • DDM

      To Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer: AGREE!

      February 15, 2013 at 9:32 am | Reply
    • monty

      It was the Democrats and Republicans that started the wars there.I suppose you would have sit by and done nothing.I will agreed it should have been handled a different way.We don't need to get involved with boots on the ground.But we do need to imposed a no-fly zone.I know you liberals have no thought for human life.But when people are being slaughtered.Don;t you think they need protection.

      February 22, 2013 at 8:41 am | Reply
  9. Solomon Walker

    What was that you said about the United States Army a few years back, Mr. Kerry?

    Do you still have that same feeling about our armed forces, Sir?

    If you do, do you think that it is in the best interest of this nation that you should occupy the position of Secretary of State for the United States?

    February 15, 2013 at 5:26 am | Reply
    • Solomon Walker

      February 15, 2013 at 5:28 am | Reply
  10. Say what?

    The US is very interesting place...we work hard to keep the guns out of extremist hands over seas but we arm our own local extremist to the Teeth....That's just insanity....

    February 15, 2013 at 2:13 am | Reply
  11. Beefburger

    al-Assad to Kerry "DON'T TAZE ME BRO!!"

    February 15, 2013 at 12:26 am | Reply
  12. kilogrammed

    There are rumors that Kerry will be visiting Damascus next week to meet President Assad. I hope he will visit Damascus to discuss his political solution.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  13. William House

    I'll take Kerry over Rumsfeld ANY DAY.

    February 14, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Reply
    • us_1776

      No kidding !!

      Rummie was an arrogant d u m b a $ $.


      February 14, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Reply
      • Commojoe

        Oh, yeah, and like Lurch here is going to do anything? I'm sure he was for this war before he was against it, huh?

        February 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
      • k_Daraa

        Not to be mistaken with Clinton-era SECDEF William Cohen who was also an arrogant dumbazz, saudi-sheik-but-kizzer.

        February 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  14. Mike

    Why is it any of our business what is happening in Syria. We continue to stick our nose in other countries business and tell them we do not like their leader whether elected or not and then we wonder why everyone hates us.

    Stay out of the middle east and let them resolve their own problems and use that saved money to address problenms here. That money would sure be nice for American students to get a college education for example.

    February 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • israel

      the first part of your statement is correct, we shouldn't stick our noses where it doesn't belong

      however the second part of your statement was tried throughout the 70's and 80's and 90's, guess what happened??

      February 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  15. Bob

    Yeah, like being practical. Tell him that we support an Allowite state, give him and his people a way out.

    February 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I have some advice for Mr. Kerry. Want the teapublicans on board? Give them a bottle of water. Its the most effective way to avert more conservative water-gate.

    February 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • crazyvermont

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      February 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • nightwriter

      Dear Blah Blah ... please take a little more time, figure out what point it is you're trying to make, and then report back to us with some words that express it well. Thanks, looking forward to it.

      February 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Reply
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        Hey nightwriter, I'm reporting back to you. Let me see if I can make my point clearer...Syria is Iran's water-gate to the sea. Feel better now?

        February 15, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  17. citizenUSA

    Yes, Syria is a conceern but to me, not as great as Iran or North Korea. I know NK talks a lot of s**t but they are advancing every day. I don't trust anyone's "calculations" about their capabilities. Where I'm from, if you talk too much smack about someone and make desciptive threats, you'll get yours first and unannounced.

    February 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  18. larry5

    Since WWII all our current politicians know how to negotiate is a surrender, raise the white flag and run. We all know how well that works.

    February 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  19. tarura

    $28B for Heinz ketchup. Not bad, not bad at all for starters.

    February 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @tarura,if you read any the Kerrys Heinz involvement was only about 1% so they didn't get the big money everyone dreamed they got,but still 1% of actually 23 billion ain't chicken feed either is it!!

      February 18, 2013 at 11:09 am | Reply
  20. Marc

    The word 'bloodbath' was President George H. W. Bush's description of what to expect in his debate with William J. Clinton. I did not see the definition of that word used until John Kerry's three debates with President George W. Bush. Thank Goodness he was not voted in as President since he makes a MUCH better Secretary of State! With him at the helm, America will enjoy a bright future.

    February 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  21. Phil

    He will fall right in line with what his deity wants. Otherwise he will be fired.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:07 am | Reply
  22. saeed

    john kerry is irish kerry is a irish surname therefor he is the enemy.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  23. Kevin

    John Kerry is a joke.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  24. helenecha

    Although we don't know if the US Secretary of State John Kerry believes that Syrian al-Assad government does trust him or if he believes that he does trust them, he sounds great, doesn't he?

    February 13, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Reply

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