Assad shuns Kerry’s call for negotiations

Kerry made his comments in an interview that aired Sunday as the civil war in Syria entered its fifth year

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed on Monday earlier comments made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that suggested Assad should be included in any dialogue aimed at reaching a political transition in the war-torn country.

Kerry had made his comments in an interview that aired Sunday as the civil war in Syria entered its fifth year.

“Well, we have to negotiate in the end. We’ve always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process,” Kerry said in the interview.

But on Monday Assad dismissed the call, and he was quoted on the Syrian state news agency as telling Iranian television: “We are still hearing the declarations and we should wait for actions and then decide.”

The United States helped lead international efforts to kick-start peace talks between Assad and a splintered Syrian opposition, bringing the two sides together in Geneva for the first time early last year.

But after two rounds of talks, the negotiations collapsed in bitter acrimony and no fresh negotiations have been scheduled while the scale of the killing and devastation has mounted.

“Assad didn’t want to negotiate,” Kerry told CBS television on Sunday. “So if he’s ready to have a serious negotiation about the implementation of Geneva I, of course, if people are prepared to do that. And what we’re pushing for is to get him to come and do that,” he replied when asked if he would negotiate with Assad.

Turkey on Monday slammed Kerry for suggesting negotiations would have to be opened with Assad to end the conflict in Syria.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the state-run Anatolia news agency that all Syria’s current problems, on the fourth anniversary of the start of the conflict in March 2011, were caused by the Assad regime.

“What is there to be negotiated with Assad?” Cavusoglu was quoted as saying at the end of his visit to Cambodia.

“You are going to have what negotiations with a regime that has killed over 200,000 people and has used chemical weapons?” he asked.

“Up until now, what result has been reached [with the regime] through negotiations?” he added.

He said all parties needed to work for a political “transformation” in Syria.

U.S. ally Britain on Monday insisted that Assad has no place in Syria’s future.

“As the [British] foreign secretary said last week, we will continue applying sanctions pressure to the regime until it reassesses its position, ends the violence and engages in meaningful negotiations with the moderate opposition,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said, in response to Kerry’s comments.

More than 215,000 people have been killed and half of the country’s population displaced since the war started five years ago.

(With AFP and Reuters)