Kerry, on inaugural trip as chief diplomat, urges Syria solution

Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague hold a joint news conference after a meeting Monday in London.
(Lefteris Pitarakis / Getty Images)

LONDON -- John Kerry used the first stop on his first foreign tour as secretary of state to urge Syrian opposition parties to join a proposed meeting this week in Rome that will seek solutions to that country’s protracted civil war.

Joined by his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry stressed the urgency of working with Britain and the U.N. toward peace in Syria and the broader Middle East.


Referring to the meeting later this week of the Friends of Syria, a group of countries seeking a resolution to the Syrian crisis, Kerry said: “I want our friends in the Syrian opposition council to know we are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We’re coming to make a decision about next steps and perhaps even other options that may or may not be discussed.”

The Syrian opposition parties have threatened to boycott the meeting, complaining that conferences have so far proved ineffective in resolving the crisis.

“I would urge the Syrian opposition to join us as a matter of practicality,” Kerry said, adding that “the best way for results is to join us in discussion and inform us.” He also called a recent bombing by Syrian government forces in Aleppo “unacceptable.”

Hague said he agreed with Kerry, and also said he would be proposing a new package of assistance to the Syrian opposition in coming weeks. “Our policy can’t be static in the face of those events,” he said, referring to the fighting in Syria. “It will have to change and develop.”

Kerry suggested that the United States was also considering broader assistance to the rebels, who have complained that they have been largely abandoned by the West and the Gulf Arab states. “This moment is ripe for us to be considering what more we can do,” Kerry said.

Kerry and Hague also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and an upcoming meeting in Kazakhstan with Iran.

“We’ve said again and again, an Iran with a nuclear weapon in that region and given all that has happened is simply unacceptable,” Kerry said, “and we have stated that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon. President Obama has been crystal clear about this and we’ve repeatedly made clear the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever, but it is open today ... and there is still time, but there’s only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and to negotiate in good faith.”

He paid tribute to the “remarkable contribution” of British troops to the war in Afghanistan

Kerry fell back on diplomatic politesse when asked about the U.S. position on Britain’s continuing dispute with Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and a future referendum of the Falkland Islanders on British or Argentine sovereignty. The two countries fought a war over the Falklands in 1982.

The U.S. position, Kerry said, is a recognition “of de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto.” He said the U.S. supports the two countries’ cooperation on practical matters such as trade and continued to urge “a peaceful solution” on the islands.


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Paul Richter in The Times’ Washington bureau contributed to this report.