Russia, U.S. continue to work to organize an international conference with representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition.
Despite disagreements between Russia and the United States on a number of issues, one which both countries say they agree upon is the urgency to convene negotiations in Geneva to discuss a political settlement to the devastating crisis in Syria.
The conflict began in March 2011 when peaceful protestors were violently attacked by the forces of the Bashar al Assad regime. Almost two and half years later, over 100,000 people have been killed, and millions more have been driven from their homes.
Since May, Russia and the United States have been working to organize an international conference that would bring together representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition to negotiate a political transition that would stop the carnage.
One increasingly disturbing development in the conflict is the surge of foreign fighters into Syria, with an expanding presence of al-Qaida-related groups joining the battle against Assad. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf says “the situation has gotten worse:”
“But I would put the onus squarely on the Assad regime, who has perpetrated, with the support of Iranian and Hezbollah forces, helping to drive some young Syrians and foreign fighters into joining extremist groups.”
Ms. Harf said that the United States has been clear that “we oppose extremism in all its forms,” which is why the United States has designated the al-Nusra group, which is fighting Assad in Syria, a terrorist organization, and why the U.S. makes sure to vet the legitimate Syrian opposition groups to which the United States gives aid:
“We’ve made it clear that the opposition, in order to be credible and to continue to get our assistance, needs to reject extremism.”
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Harf said, “The Assad regime has lost all legitimacy with its people. It can no longer…be seen in the eyes of people as the legitimate head of the government. We’ve also been clear that it’s important that the opposition continues to coalesce, continues to organize – that is why election of leaders was so important – because going forward, there needs to be a political process where we can get to something resembling a stable, inclusive Syrian government that is not the Assad regime.”
“This,” said Ms. Harf, “is exactly why we think a Geneva II process and conference is key to getting a political resolution that gives us the best chance of having a stable Syria.”