U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he will meet later this week with leaders from Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to discuss options for restarting the process of bringing a political resolution to the situation in Syria.
Kerry said during a visit to Spain that the United States wants to avoid the "total destruction" of Syria and that he is going into the talks only with the expectation of all parties trying to better understand what the options are and how to proceed.
"Everybody, including the Russians and the Iranians, have all said there is no military solution, so we need to get about the effort of finding the political solution," Kerry said. "This is a human catastrophe that now threatens the integrity of a whole group of countries around the region."
Russia has been conducting airstrikes for three weeks in support of Syrian troops as part of a campaign that has drawn sharp criticism from the U.S. and others. Critics say Russian forces are mainly targeting rebels and not Islamic State militants.
Kerry said if Russia is only there to "prop up" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its actions will only attract more militants to the fight.
"If, on the other hand, Russia is there to help Assad find a way to a political solution as well as to fight Daesh and extremism, then there is the possibility of a very different path," he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Kerry called the massive influx of migrants who have fled to Europe, many of them from Syria, unprecedented in modern times and said there is a real threat of many more following the same path if the violence in Syria continues.
The United Nations has registered nearly 4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, with more than 2 million of them in Turkey alone.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland is meeting Monday in Ankara with Turkish officials to discuss the refugee crisis as well as the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Discouraging militant recruitment
Kerry also discussed the "vital" importance of pushing back against people who are trying to travel to Syria to join the militants, saying the U.S. and other countries have been able to keep many fighters from making the trip.
The issue is also a focus in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron is announcing new measures Monday to try to help prevent teenagers from joining extremists.
The plan includes allowing parents to have the passports of 16- and 17-year-olds removed if they worry the youths might travel to Syria or Iraq. It also bars anyone convicted of terrorism crimes or extremist activity from working with children and other vulnerable people.
Cameron's office cited police figures showing 338 arrests in the past year related to counterterrorism, with 157 linked to Syria and 56 involving people under age 20.