John Kerry intensifies pressure over Syria

Wants to ‘get down to brass tacks’ with Putin on Assad’s future

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to press president Vladimir Putin on how Russia sees a future political transition in Syria and the fate of president Bashar al-Assad.

With a fragile truce in place in Syria and warring sides attending peace talks in Geneva, Kerry wants to “get down to brass tacks” on the question of Assad’s future, a State Department official said.

While the US wants Assad to step aside, Russia says only the Syrian people can decide his fate at the ballot box and has bristled at any talk of regime change. Kerry is holding talks with Putin at the Kremlin today, in a meeting arranged after the Russian leader’s announcement on March 14 he was partially withdrawing his forces from Syria.

“The secretary would like to now really hear where President Putin is in his thinking on a political transition” in Syria, the official said as Kerry arrived in Moscow.

“Obviously what we are looking for, and what we have been looking for, is how we are going to transition Syria away from Assad’s leadership,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After five years of conflict that has killed over 250,000 people and caused the world’s worst refugee crisis, Washington and Moscow reached a deal three weeks ago for a cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged areas.

The State Department official said meetings with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would evaluate the status of the ceasefire and try to “get on the same page” about ending violations and increasing humanitarian assistance.

Russia this week threatened to act unilaterally against those who violate the ceasefire unless it reached a deal with the US on ways to detect and prevent truce breaches.

The Syrian opposition has accused government forces of renewing sieges and stepping up a campaign of barrel-bombing across the country.

In Geneva, where warring sides are a week into talks on ending the conflict, government officials have rejected any discussion on the fate of Assad, who opposition leaders say must go as part of any transition. 


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