The New York Times reports: The United States, Russia, the European Union and Middle Eastern countries had agreed in Vienna last month on a timeline of two years to hold new elections in Syria but left the question of Mr. Assad’s fate unsettled.
Last week, a wide range of Syrian opposition figures formed a new body to oversee peace negotiations and insisted that Mr. Assad step down.
Mr. Kerry appeared, more carefully than on previous occasions, to couch America’s insistence that Mr. Assad leave office as a recondition of any settlement.
The United States, he said, was not seeking Mr. Assad’s ouster per se, but rather considers it unlikely that he could preside over a successful settlement.
“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria,” Mr. Kerry said. Syrian opposition groups arriving for talks Friday in New York should not demand as a condition of sitting down that Mr. Assad depart immediately, Mr. Kerry said, a position Russia calls a nonstarter for negotiations.
“We see Syria fundamentally very similarly,” Mr. Kerry said. “We want the same outcomes, we see the same dangers, we understand the same challenges.” He added that the countries are “honest with differences.” [Continue reading…]