Assad Awaits US 'Actions' After Kerry Talk Promise

Admission leads Assad to put Kerry on the spot, with Syrian media celebrating Kerry's recognition of 'legitimacy' and 'US-Zionist failure.'

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said Monday he was waiting for US "actions" after Secretary of State John Kerry said talks with Assad's regime were necessary to end the country's conflict.

"We are still listening to the comments and we have to wait for the actions and then we'll decide," Assad told Iranian television in comments in Damascus broadcast on Syrian state television," reports AFP.

The comments were the first since Kerry said in an interview aired on Sunday that Washington would be willing to talk to Assad.

"Well, we have to negotiate in the end," Kerry said, when asked by CBS television if he would negotiate with the Syrian leader who, to maintain his regime, has been engaged in a bloody civil war now in its fifth year that has seen over 200,000 of his own people killed.

Kerry's spokeswoman later stressed that the comments indicated no change in US policy, saying "there is no future for a brutal dictator like Assad in Syria."

But Syrian media touted the statement as a reversal in US policy that acknowledged Assad's "legitimacy."

In his brief comments, Assad said any real change in the international community's policy on Syria would require ending "political support of terrorists," a charge his government regularly levels against backers of the Syrian opposition.

"We have no choice but to defend our country," Assad claimed. "Any international changes that come about within that framework are something positive, if they are honest and have an effect on the ground."

More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011. It spiralled into a civil war after a government crackdown on demonstrators.

The US has 'backed down'

Responding to Kerry's comments, the Syrian Al-Watan newspaper on Monday said the statements "open the door to a new stage in political negotiations."

Despite Kerry's spokeswoman's efforts to downplay the statement, Syrian state television immediately flashed his comments as breaking news when they emerged on Sunday, and other media touted the remarks as a U-turn by the US administration.

"Facing a fait accompli, the American administration has backed down and recognized the need to reposition its policy on the Syria crisis," wrote Al-Watan, which is close to the government.

Washington recognizes the need to put its Syria policy "back on the right track by negotiating with President Assad to solve the conflict," it added.

It said Kerry's comments underlined the "failure" of US policy towards Syria and were an acknowledgement that Assad will not be ousted militarily.

"This is a new recognition of President Assad's legitimacy, his key role and his popularity, and the resulting necessity of negotiating with him," the daily said.

It suggested that Kerry's comments could "open the door to a new stage in political negotiations," with Washington perhaps dispatching a representative to talks being hosted by Moscow on April 6.

Moscow, a key Assad ally, is seeking to sponsor its own peace initiative in Syria, but there has been no indication yet of whether the US-backed Syrian opposition will attend the talks.

The Al-Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of Assad's ruling Baath party, said Kerry's comments "confirmed once more the failure of the American-Zionist project against Syria."

"The West has begun to fear the terrorism it cultivated," the daily said.

Syrian state media make no distinction between Western-backed rebels battling to oust the regime and jihadist fighters like those of the Islamic State group.

While Kerry's remarks made a splash, there was some skepticism in the state press about whether they signaled a real intent to negotiate with Assad.

Al-Thawra questioned whether the comments were "a recognition (of Assad's importance) or a tactic?"