U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says it may be possible to get Syria's government and rebel forces to cooperate against Islamic State militants, even before an agreement is reached on when and how President Bashar al-Assad will relinquish power in his wartorn country.
Kerry, who was in Athens Friday, said all sides in the Syrian civil war will only cooperate in fighting to suppress the Islamic State group if they are confident that a mutually acceptable solution about the Syrian leader's future is “in sight.”
Otherwise, Kerry said, it would be "extremely difficult" to secure such cooperation.
Senior State Department officials said Kerry’s comments do not represent a shift in U.S. policy.
“Nothing has changed about our view that Assad cannot be part of Syria’s future,” a senior State Department official told VOA.
“The secretary was simply conveying the view that we do not yet know how the transition process [in Syria] will evolve,” the senior official said, “and to what degree Assad's presence in the near term can be reconciled with the opposition's view – and ours – that over the long term he cannot stay in power.”
U.S. policymakers know they cannot expect opposition factions in Syria “to stay committed to either the political process or the [anti-Islamic State] fight if they aren't assured that Assad will eventually go,” the senior official added.
Kerry was speaking at a news conference in the Greek capital, where he announced that the U.S. is contributing an additional $24 million to help refugees as the European winter approaches. The aid will go to the U.N. refugee agency for food, water and shelter.
Greece has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other refugees who have reached the country's shores this year.
Meeting with Greece
Kerry met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, telling him that American businesses are interested in Greece and "trying to be helpful" during the country's economic recovery.
He also praised Greece's efforts to cope with the crisis.
On Iran, Kerry said the U.S. has never doubted that Tehran conducted work on nuclear weapons, following a U.N. report that said Iran worked more than a decade ago on developing atomic weapons.
However, Kerry said Friday the real issue is what Iran will do to adhere to the landmark nuclear pact that Iran and six world powers signed in July. The pact calls for Iran to dramatically scale back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Kerry would not comment on an International Atomic Energy Agency report that said Iran conducted most of its coordinated work on developing nuclear weapons prior to the end of 2003. There are no credible indications that work lasted past 2009, the report said.
Media outlets obtained a copy of the confidential report this week.
VOA’s Mike Richman and State Department correspondent Pam Dockins contributed to this story.