Join Kerry on Ice with Russia on Syria
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, told the media in Vienna October 30, 2015:
Four and a half years of war in Syria we all believe has been far too long, and the consequences of that war for so many people, innocent people, is beyond description – devastation in refugee camps, migration effects all over. The result has been a lot of suffering and far too much damage to the economic and social and political fabric of the region. And so we came here – the foreign ministers who came here today – with the conviction that the fighting and the killing absolutely has to end. And it’s up to us to try to find a way to do that.
Our shared task is to find a way to use the tools of diplomacy in order to make that happen. This is a relatively large diplomatic group that met today because there are a lot of people who are stakeholders because there are a lot of neighbors, and there are a lot of people who are supporting, one way or the other, one side or another. And so it will take pressure from many different directions to reverse the escalation of conflict and to lay a credible groundwork for peace.
Daesh and other terrorist organizations, we all believe, can never be allowed to unite or govern Syria. The United States position regarding Syria, I emphasize, has not changed. Sergey Lavrov and Prime Minister Zarif and I and others agree to disagree. The United States position is there is no way that President Assad can unite and govern Syria. And we believe that Syrians deserve a different choice, and our goal is to work with Syrians from many factions to develop that choice.
But we can’t allow that difference to get in the way of the possibility of diplomacy to end the killing and to find the solution. And that is a significance of the decision that was really made here today was that even though we acknowledge the difference, we know it is urgent to get to the table and to begin the process of real negotiations. So we’re employing a two-pronged approach.
Speaking for the United States, we are intensifying our counter-Daesh campaign and we are intensifying our diplomatic efforts in order to end the conflict. And we believe these steps are mutually reinforcing.
And that is why today President Obama made an announcement about stepping up the fight against Daesh. He authorized a small complement of U.S. Special Operations Forces to deploy to northern Syria where they will help to coordinate local ground forces and coalition efforts in order to counter Daesh.
But at the end of the day, the United States and our coalition partners believe that there is absolutely nothing that would do more to fight Daesh than to achieve a political transition that strengthens the governance capacity of Syria, sidelines the person that we believe attracts so many foreign fighters and so much terror, and unite the country against extremism.
Make no mistake, the answer to the Syrian civil war is not found in a military alliance with Assad, from our point of view. But I am convinced that it can be found through a broadly supported diplomatic initiative aimed at a negotiated political transition, consistent with the Geneva communique.
And I want to thank Sergey Lavrov for his efforts to try to find that diplomatic solution and for the commitment of Russia even as it is engaged in supporting Assad, which is not a secret, in believing that we need to move towards a political solution. There is nothing inevitable in our judgment about the war in Syria. The war came about because of choices that people made. And what people have the power to choose, they have the power to change.
To change the pattern of violence in Syria, we have to change some of the patterns of thinking, so that the choice is not between a dictator and Daesh, but between war and peace, between destroying and building, between catering to the violent extremes and empowering the political center.
We’re not going to succeed in that by focusing on how we got to where we are. And frankly, we spent a fair amount of time today making sure that the discussion didn’t get bogged down in the past. And I appreciate the discipline and the effort that all of the participants made to look to the future and to try to find the ways to move there. We have to be creative and we have to be determined in deciding how we go from here and where we go from here. And that was the subject of today’s discussions.
I want to make it clear also, none of us expected today to walk in and have one side or other say to the other, “Hey, Assad’s not an issue anymore,” or, “Assad’s going to do this or that.” That was not ever in anybody’s contemplation. This is the beginning of a new diplomatic process, not the final chapter. But I can tell you that all of us were convinced of the importance of finding a way to get back to the negotiating in a way that’s real. And what makes it real this time, unlike any other previous meeting, every stakeholder was represented there in terms of all of the countries who are supporting one side or another in this conflict.
So I will leave for the rest of my overseas trip with a fresh sense of the possibility of encouragement. I’m a realist. I know it’s difficult and I saw today in some of the conversation just how complicated and difficult it is indeed. But I believe the diplomatic situation is today more promising than it has been in some time because all of the stakeholders came to this table. There were tough conversations today. They were honest, frank. But there is more willingness and commitment by all the parties there today to continue to talk about practical steps, and there is more clarity about intentions. I’m not going to make any great claims here. I’m not going to blow anything up beyond the difficult path that it is. But I can report that we did make progress on the following.
The participants agreed today that Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and secular character are fundamental. We agreed that Syria’s state institutions will remain intact. We agreed that the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination, must be protected. We agreed that it is imperative to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war. We agreed that humanitarian access must be assured throughout the territory of Syria, and the participants will increase support for internally displaced persons, refugees, and their host countries.
We agreed that Daesh and other terrorist groups as designated by the UN Security Council and as agreed by the participants must be defeated. Pursuant to the 2012 Geneva communique and UN Security Council Resolution 2118, we invited the UN to convene representatives of the Government of Syria and the Syrian opposition for a political process leading to a credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance followed by a new constitution and elections. We agreed that these elections must be administered under UN supervision to the satisfaction of the government and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, free and fair, with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.
We agreed that this political process will be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned and that the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria. And we agreed together with the United Nations to explore modalities for and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire to be initiated on a date certain and in parallel with this renewed political process.
We will spend the coming days working to narrow remaining areas of disagreement and to build on the areas of agreement, and we will reconvene within two weeks to continue these discussions.
Let me just reiterate that we all have a sense of urgency. We all know what it is stake. And personally, I have met with refugees, the survivors of barrel bombing, the unspeakable torture that has taken place. I’ve talked to women who struggle to hold their families together despite constant danger, bitter cold, and shortages of shelter and medicine and food. And I’ve heard the blood-chilling stories of doctors and relief workers who are dealing with the humanitarian trauma that this war is creating on a daily basis.
I am aware, as you are, of atrocities that have been committed and are being committed by the extremes on both sides. As I said a couple of days ago, the challenge is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell. And that’s not going to happen overnight, but I am convinced that the steps that we worked on today, if followed up on, if worked on in good faith, can begin to move us in the right direction. And it’s our job to accelerate the momentum so that we’re not back here next year or even the year after facing a Middle East with even more refugees, with even greater numbers of dead and displaced, and with even more suffering and more eroding hope. The time has come to stop the building – stop the bleeding and start the building, and that is exactly what we have set out to do.