The United States will have to negotiate with Syrian regime President Bashar Al-Assad to remove him from power; Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to have said.
During an interview with America's CBS News that aired yesterday, Kerry said: "We have to negotiate in the end. What we're pushing for is to get him [Assad] to come and do that, and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds in order to do that."
Kerry's remarks contradict the US administration's repeated remarks that Al-Assad will have to relinquish power to end the five year conflict that has seen more than 200,000 deaths.
When asked whether he would be willing "to negotiate with Assad", Kerry responded that "we have to negotiate in the end".
"We've always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process," he added.
"To get the Assad regime to negotiate, we're going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating," Kerry said.
The American Secretary noted that he is convinced that "with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad."
But State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said later that Kerry was not specifically referring to Assad. She reiterated that Washington would never negotiate with the Syrian leader.
Harf said: "By necessity, there has always been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of this process. It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate – and the Secretary was not saying that today."
Meanwhile, a statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry said that Kerry discussed with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, in Sharm El-Sheikh a new round of talks for moderate Syrian opposition groups hosted by Cairo.
The statement said: "Minister Shoukry explained efforts to unify the Syrian oppositions' visions and the importance of finding a political solution to the conflict."
Syrian opposition groups are scheduled to meet in Cairo on 24 April, followed by a second round of talks with representatives from the Syrian regime to take place in the Russian capital Moscow.
In remarks to the Anadolu Agency yesterday, member of the Syrian coalition in Cairo Bassam Al-Malek said the conference aims to discuss Al-Assad's future which includes leaving him in power for two years while transferring his powers to an interim governing body that calls for early presidential elections.