Kerry downplays government advances in Syria ahead of talks
AMMAN, Jordan — U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday downplayed recent battlefield advances by Syria’s military, saying they do not signal that the government of President Bashar Assad is gaining the upper hand against rebel forces in the more than 2-year-old conflict.
“Yeah, he’s made a few gains in the last days,” Kerry told reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital. “But this has gone up and down in a seesaw.”
Speaking before a meeting of the pro-opposition Friends of Syria bloc, Kerry also deplored the “destructive role” of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has deployed militiamen on Assad’s behalf in the ongoing battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair.
In recent weeks, Syrian troops have overrun guerrilla forces in several parts of the country, most recently in and around Qusair, a major rebel logistics hub near the Lebanese border.
The advances have caused some analysts to recalibrate projections about the government’s ability to survive. But Kerry said, “If Bashar al-Assad thinks that the gains that he’s made in the last few days are going to be determinative of this, then he is miscalculating — just as he did when he engaged in this struggle against his own people.”
Kerry also warned that Washington was prepared to step up support to the Syrian opposition if Assad did not negotiate “in good faith” during U.S.- and Russian-brokered peace talks planned for next month. The talks are designed to pave the way for a transitional government in Syria under the terms of an international accord hammered out last year in Geneva.
The Obama administration has said it has so far provided only nonlethal aid to the rebels.
While ruling out the deployment of U.S. ground forces in Syria, Kerry said the White House “has taken no options off the table with respect to how that support may be provided or what kind of support it might be.”
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