In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya from Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ramped up his criticism of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling him “the single biggest magnet for terrorists” and the only person who stands in the way of peace and the future of Syria.
Speaking with Al Arabiya's Rima Maktabi, Kerry said President Assad has refused to accept a political transition that will see him leave power.
“Yesterday you had 40 countries and organizations all of which with the exception of one were talking about a transition government and the need to have a change in Syria. The one that refused to talk about it was obviously the Assad regime,” Kerry said.
He said there’s no way that the opposition is ever going to consent to Assad being part of any future government.
“Assad needs to put Syria in front of Assad. This should not be about one man, one family; this should be about all the people of Syria and the future of Syria,” Kerry said.
The U.S. secretary of state pointed out that the world would protect Assad’s Allawite religious sect from persecution if he steps down.
“I say to any of the Allawites who are fighting with the belief that somehow only Assad can protect them: that is not true; Assad is putting them at risk today. He is putting all of Syria at risk today.”
“He is responsible for the potential disintegration of Syria,” Kerry added.
People within the Assad’s regime who don’t have blood on their hands, he said, could continue to be part of a government transitional process.
In regards to Iran, the secretary of state said Washington continues to be wary of its involvement in the Syrian conflict and that it can only judge Iran’s actions, not words.
“Iran has to be engaged realistically and on a basis of honesty. Iran understands that the Geneva I communiqué calls for a transition government with full executive authority by mutual consent,” Kerry said.
Iran refused to embrace that standard as a precondition to attend Geneva II and has said its absence as an “influential party” will lead the Geneva II conference to failure.
“Iran clearly, has IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) personnel on the ground in Syria conducting military affairs,” Kerry said, adding that Tehran “is the principal supporter of its client, terrorist organization called Hezbollah.”
Kerry said Hezbollah is the “principal difference” in the fighting that is taking place on the ground in Syria.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least 130,000 people have been killed since March 2011 when the uprisings against Assad began. The year 2013 was the deadliest, with 73,000 fatalities.
Several countries, Kerry said, are willing to send peace-keeping forces to a future Syria. The United States, however, is unlikely to send in troops.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate I don’t think anyone believes that American troops should be on the ground. There are many countries whose troops could be accepted and would be able to be there as peace keepers. I have no question of that.”
Although the United States considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, reaching a nuclear deal with it was in the interest of the region.
“I am absolutely certain without a reasonable doubt that Saud Arabia, Turkey , Jordan, all countries in the region are safer today from the threat of the Iranian nuclear weapon than they were before the agreement that we made,” Kerry said.
If Iran does not execute the commitments it made with Western powers, “the military option of the united states is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do,” Kerry said.
“It wouldn’t be a wise choice for Iran. We are convinced that we are on the right track because clearly the world would rather see us settle this peaceful rather than have a military confrontation,” he said.SHOW MORE