Wrapping up his first foreign trip as America's top diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a united front with Qatar on the issue of Syria, while also advancing the U.S. position for a negotiated solution to the conflict.
“Qatar and the United States have worked very hard to strengthen international sanctions against the Assad regime and help the opposition build the unity and effectiveness that they need in order to try to change President Assad's calculation on the ground,” Kerry said during a Qatar news conference as he highlighted diplomatic efforts to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down.
Kerry spoke Tuesday in Doha alongside Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who also serves as foreign minister, who stressed that his nation supports moderate rebel forces in Syria and does not want radical groups there to win.
Qatar's outsized influence in the region, due its financial and media clout, has played an important role in the Syrian conflict, with at least some of its money said to be going to support militant Sunni Islamist groups.
“Qatar supports the elements, some of the elements in the fight, including these jihadist groups that make it sectarian," says political analyst Andrew Parasaliti, editor of Al-Monitor.com. "And that is how many in the region see the struggle in Syria, as a regional-sectarian battle and Qatar and Turkey and Saudi Arabia are one side of that and Russia [and] Iran support the Assad government on the other side of that.”
So far, the United States has ruled out sending anything other than non-lethal aid to the rebels. But Kerry appeared to take a softer position toward how U.S. allies choose to back the rebels, saying Monday he is confident that the arms will go to the “moderate, legitimate” opposition.
Kerry's visit to Qatar, the last stop on his inaugural, nine-nation tour as the top U.S. diplomat, is weighed down with baggage from a previous position.
In 2009, then-Senator Kerry highlighted the troubled nature of the relationship by saying Qatar “can't continue to be an American ally on Monday that sends money to Hamas on Tuesday,” a reference to the Palestinian group which controls Gaza, that the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
“While Qatar remains an important country in terms of the regional mix, and one the United States does indeed deal with in the common interests on many issues," Parasaliti says, "there are also issues like in Syria, like the Israel-Palestinian issue where there may be sources, where there are sources of difference.
Diplomat Kerry downplayed those differences on Tuesday.