Kerry: We can defeat IS within 'months' of Syrian transition
Dec. 03, 2015
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The Islamic State can be defeated within "months" of a ceasefire between Syria's government and moderate rebels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday, urging the world to come together behind a peace strategy recently hashed out by the United States, Russia and other countries.
Kerry said air power alone won't be enough. The campaign will require ground forces, too, he said at a European security conference. He later specified those would be local Syrian and Arab boots on the ground, not Western troops.
Kerry has been spearheading international efforts to broker an end to fighting between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and non-terrorist opposition forces, and a political transition process involving elements of each side. The thinking is that peace between the government and moderates would allow the international community to focus military efforts exclusively on defeating IS, al-Qaida's Syria affiliate and other extremist groups.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have endorsed the process. Iran, along with Russia, is Assad's biggest backer. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies in the Persian Gulf have provided much of the assistance to the rebels.
Diplomats hope to start direct discussions between Syria's government and the opposition in the next few weeks. December talks in New York are a possibility. First, a meeting of Syrian opposition representatives is planned in Saudi Arabia next week.
Kerry said a political transition would be a boon for everyone, allowing the Islamic State to be "eliminated within a matter of months."
The U.S. has spoken generally of degrading and eventually destroying the group. It has tried to avoid timelines.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed that the Syrian opposition meeting should be "as inclusive as possible," a State Department official said after the two diplomats met on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation event in Belgrade, Serbia.
They both said more work was required to determine which rebel groups could be represented in a political transition and which should be considered excluded as terrorist organizations, said the official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the conversation publicly and demanded anonymity. Most of the half-hour chat between Kerry and Lavrov took place one-on-one, without the presence of either top diplomat's aides.