A leading U.S. newspaper has obtained an audio recording of Secretary of State John Kerry expressing his frustration with U.S. policy in Syria.
The New York Times says the recording was made last month in New York at a closed-door meeting with a group of Syrian civilians. The newspaper posted excerpts from the recording on its website Friday alongside an article about the meeting.
Kerry is heard complaining that his diplomatic efforts have not been backed by the threat of military action by his own government. "I think you're looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument."
Kerry also told the group that met at the Dutch Mission to the U.N. on September 22, "We're trying to pursue the diplomacy and I understand it's frustrating. You have nobody more frustrated than we are."
The group included representatives of four Syrian organizations that provide education, rescue and medical services in rebel-held areas in Syria; diplomats from three or four countries, and Kerry's chief of staff and special envoy for Syria.
The newspaper said a non-Syrian made the recording and the tape's authenticity was confirmed by several participants.
The Times said the group was "demoralized" by the meeting, with one woman asking how many Syrians had to be killed before the U.S. steps in to help Syrians beat back government troops.
Kerry "astonished" the group at one point, according to the paper, when he proposed establishing an election in which Syrians could vote President Bashar al-Assad out of office.
"Everybody who's registered as a refuge anywhere in the world can vote," Kerry said. "Are they going to vote for Assad: Assad's scared of this happening."
The Syrians were not convinced, The New York Times reported, that Syrians living under government rule would feel safe voting against Assad or that Russia would agree to such an election. Russia has joined the Syrian government in attacks on rebel-held areas.
One participant said she had hoped the U.S. would have a more straightforward role in getting rid of Assad.
Kerry asked her, "So you think the only solution is for somebody to come in and get rid of Assad?"
"Yes," she said.
Kerry replied, "Who's that going to be? Who's going to do that."
The Syrian woman said, "Three years ago, I would say: You. But right now, I don't know."