US says it hasn’t changed position on Syria’s Assad

Washington: The Obama administration has maintained that President Bashar Assad shouldn’t lead Syria any longer, rejecting a Russian claim that the US has changed its position.

Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying Washington now accepts Moscow’s argument that Assad’s future shouldn’t be open for negotiation right now.

Assad’s Russian-backed government and Western-supported rebels recently concluded a round of peace talks and will meet again next month.

Secretary of State John Kerry visited President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials in the Kremlin this week to plot the next steps.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said yesterday: “Any suggestion that we have changed in any way our view of Assad’s future is false. Assad has lost his legitimacy to govern. We haven’t changed our view on that.”

The US softened demands last year for Assad’s immediate departure, but still insists he should resign at some point in a political transition process. Russia says outside powers shouldn’t try to determine Syria’s leadership. Assad has offered no indication he is willing to leave power.

At least 250,000 people, and perhaps as many as a half million, have been killed in the five-year civil war. The fighting also has spawned Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and has led to the emergence of the Islamic State group.