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Kerry Travels to Turkey for Syrian Opposition Meeting


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Turkey Saturday for a meeting of foreign ministers who back opposition groups fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The issue of refugees will be high on the meeting's agenda as Syrian government attacks continue to drive people across the border into Jordan.

"You can imagine the destabilizing impact and the problem for the Jordanians, who have other issues and challenges economically. So this is a big deal," said Kerry.

It is one of the challenges foreign ministers will address at the next round of talks with Syrian opposition leaders in Istanbul.

"We need a lot of assistance. We need military help. We need humanitarian help. We need all sorts of help to get on the ground and get started in serving the Syrian people," said opposition Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says countries such as the United States that support the opposition are only making things worse.

"In any conflict, if there's a mechanism that isolates one of the sides of the conflict or is aimed at isolating one of the sides then we just lose an opportunity for a dialogue or any solution to be found," he said.

U.S. Institute for Peace analyst Steve Heydemann says Washington is coming to realize that its former approach to the conflict has failed.

"Under the old policy," he said, "we could not even provide training to brigade commanders in international humanitarian law in the hope that they would develop some tools for preventing the fighters under their command from doing things like torturing prisoners or executing prisoners. I think it it helpful if we can provide that kind of training."

Secretary Kerry says more direct U.S. assistance to rebels is meant to push a negotiated settlement and prevent the implosion of the Syrian state.

"The best shot at preventing it is to try to get to the negotiating table to get the Geneva communique implemented so that you can save the institutions of the state, not wind up with an enclave state with huge instability and problems with extremist groups that have grown stronger as a result of this conflict," said Kerry.

But so far the United States has not provided weapons to the opposition.

"There continues to be an enormous degree of reluctance to get into the business of arming rebel groups on the ground in Syria. There continues to be concern that we have little control over who those weapons might go to," explained U.S. Institute for Peace analyst Steve Heydemann.

U.S. allies Britain and France favor arming the rebels, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying that would show Assad that he cannot win.
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