Syria’s President Bashar Assad wasted little time rejecting Secretary of State John Kerry’s call to include him in potential political negotiations over an end to the Syrian civil war, CBS reports. “Declarations from outside do not concern us,” Assad said on Syrian state television Monday. “Any talk on the future of the Syrian president is for the Syrian people.” The comments come the day after Kerry told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that negotiations would be necessary to resolve outstanding conflicts in Syria between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, other rebel groups and those loyal to the Assad regime.
“What we’re pushing for is to get [Assad] to come and [negotiate], and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds in order to do that,” Kerry said, though he did not specify what kind of pressure might be necessary. Some news organizations saw a shift in Kerry’s remarks — in tone, if not in substance — but State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denied that the U.S. is now considering direct talks with a man Kerry once compared to Adolf Hitler.“[T]here has always been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of this process,” Harf said. “It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate — and the secretary was not saying that today.”
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, forces loyal to Assad have lost control of much of the country, most notably the city of Raqqa, which has become ISIL’s de facto capital. Previously, the Obama administration called for Assad’s ouster and a transition to democracy, but the U.S. has softened its line as ISIL has grown in strength. In Kerry’s Sunday interview he declined to call on Assad to leave office, calling instead for a “political solution” through negotiations. U.S. officials have grown increasingly alarmed about not just ISIL, but a raft of jihadist groups in Syria that have seized large swaths of territory and elbowed aside more moderate groups — including those backed by the U.S.
On Friday, CIA Director John Brennan warned that the sudden collapse of the Assad regime could empower those groups. “What we don’t want to do is to allow those extremist elements” to take control of Syria, Brennan told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The last thing we want to do is to allow them to march into Damascus.” “We need to continue to support those elements within Syria that are dedicated to moving Assad and his ilk out, but there has to be some kind of political pathway to the future,” he said.