Robert Ford: Assad’s departure to be discussed during Geneva talks

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U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that an agreement was reached with Russia to resolve the issue surrounding President Bashar al-Assad’s departure on the negation table during the planned Geneva peace talks.

Ford added that the United States is “pressuring Assad to join the negotiating table” and that the Geneva peace talks should end with a political transition for Syria.

“We need to reassure Russia on who will replace Assad,” Ford told a panel of U.S. lawmakers.

He said that supporting the Syrian opposition is not enough to pressure the regime and the coordination efforts with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are not enough.

“We are facing a problem with the Syrian opposition killing each other.”

The diplomat praised the destruction of the regime’s chemical stockpile calling it a “big achievement” but said that the measures to hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons are being debated.

Senator John McCain reiterated the Obama administration’s interest in holding the Geneva II peace talks, adding that Assad is “continuing to kill.”

“What is happening in Syria is no longer a civil war; it is a regional conflict,” the senator said.

The chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez said that progress toward destroying Syria's chemical weapons is "the only positive note" in the worsening crisis in the Mideast nation.

Menendez lamented the worsening humanitarian crisis caused by the war now in its third year.

He and other lawmakers told Ford that they do not believe the Obama administration has a strategy for dealing with the conflict, Associated Press reported.

The head of the panel said the United States position in the Middle East is becoming “weak” because of its handling of the Syrian conflict, urging Obama to open humanitarian corridors in the country, from which a third of Syrian population has escaped, he said.

“Obama’s policies in Syria are embarrassing Americans,” Menendez said.

(With the Associated Press)

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