(ROME) — Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday stood by his renewed push with the Russian government for the Assad regime and Syria’s opposition to negotiate a political solution to end the conflict, now going into its third year.
Speaking at a news conference in Rome, Kerry addressed a Wall Street Journal report on Thursday that Russia was preparing to sell missiles to the Syrian government, saying he expressed his general disapproval of Russian support to the Assad regime during his meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week.
“We’ve made it crystal clear that we would prefer Russians not supply assistance. That is on record. That hasn’t changed,” said Kerry, who added that the United States believes the shipment of missiles would be “potentially destabilizing with the respect to the state of Israel.”
But he also acknowledged that there are countries supplying weapons to the rebels, and stressed that he wants to focus on what the United States and Russia can accomplish towards helping both sides reach a political solution soon.
He said he remained encouraged by the Russians’ cooperation and by what he described as a public backing-away from their specific support for Assad.
“I thought what Foreign Minister Lavrov said in Moscow was very important. He stood up and said Russia is not tied to any one person,” Kerry told reporters.
He added that Russia’s stated support of the implementation of the Geneva agreement from last year, which requires that any transitional government in Syria be appointed by “mutual consent” from both sides, is proof that the Russians understand Assad will not have a role in any future government.
“There is no way that anybody here believes that the opposition is ever going to give consent to President Assad to be running that government. so that fact that Russia and Foreign Minister Lavrov embrace this path is very, very significant,” said Kerry.
He added that the additional $100 million in humanitarian aid the United States pledged on Thursday to help address Syria’s growing refugee crisis is only a short-term reprieve from the ongoing violence. He reiterated that the only permanent solution to Syria’s conflict will be a political one.
“In the end, my friends, the solution to this crisis is not more humanitarian assistance,” said Kerry. “In the end, it’s a political solution that reduces the humanitarian crisis itself.”
The news conference in Rome came at the end of whirlwind trip that began in Moscow on Tuesday. While in Rome, Kerry also continued with his push for the Middle East peace process, meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who serves as the special envoy for the quartet group of nations attempting to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Madison Park and Frank Pallotta, CNN
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Stephen Collinson and Eric Bradner, CNN