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updated: 6/22/2013 11:09 AM

Kerry: Political solution urgently needed in Syria

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  • U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Susan Ziadeh, left, walks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second from left, and Ambassador Ibrahim Fakhroo, Qatari Chief of Protocol, on Kerry's arrival in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. Kerry began the overseas trip plunging into two thorny foreign policy problems facing the Obama administration: unrelenting bloodshed in Syria and efforts to talk to the Taliban and find a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan.

      U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Susan Ziadeh, left, walks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second from left, and Ambassador Ibrahim Fakhroo, Qatari Chief of Protocol, on Kerry's arrival in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. Kerry began the overseas trip plunging into two thorny foreign policy problems facing the Obama administration: unrelenting bloodshed in Syria and efforts to talk to the Taliban and find a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Saturday for an urgent political resolution to the war in Syria, saying that unless the bloodshed stops, the region could descend into a chaotic sectarian conflict.

Kerry met in Doha with 10 of his counterparts from Arab and European nations to coordinate aid to the embattled rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad in a two-year civil war that has left 93,000 dead. All the nations in attendance agreed to step up aid to the rebels, Kerry said.

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While he offered no specifics, Kerry said the assistance would help change the balance on the battlefield, where regime forces have scored recent victories. Kerry blamed Assad for the deteriorating situation in Syria, saying that while the international community was attempting to hold a conference to set up a transitional government, Assad invited Iranian and Hezbollah fighters to bolster his troops.

It was Kerry's first meeting with his counterparts about aid to the Syrian rebels since President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would send lethal aid to the opposition despite concern that weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists in Syria. That decision was partly based on a U.S. intelligence assessment that Assad had used chemical weapons, but Kerry expressed deeper concern about Iran and Hezbollah fighters.

"That is a very, very dangerous development," Kerry said. "Hezbollah is a proxy for Iran. ... Hezbollah in addition to that is a terrorist organization."

Kerry blamed Hezbollah and Assad with thwarting efforts to diffuse sectarian rebels and to negotiate a settlement.

"We're looking at a very dangerous situation," that had transformed "into a much more volatile, potentially explosive situation that could involve the entire region," Kerry said.

The war already has spilled into neighboring countries and is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni against Shiite Muslims and threatening the stability of Syria's neighbors.

Kerry met with his counterparts in the Qatari capital on the first stop of a seven-nation trip through the Mideast and Asia where he is tackling difficult foreign policy issues -- from finding peace between the Israelis and Palestinians to trying to gain traction on U.S. talks with the Taliban to end the Afghanistan war. James Dobbins, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in Doha on Saturday, but talks with the Taliban have not been scheduled.

Kerry seemed to put the ball in the Taliban's court, saying the Americans and Qataris were all on board to help negotiate a political resolution to the war and it was up to the Taliban to come to the table at a new political office they opened last week in Doha. "We are waiting to find out whether the Taliban will respond, Kerry said.

"We will see if we can get back on track. I don't know whether that's possible or not," Kerry said. "If there is not a decision made by the Taliban to move forward in short order, then we may have to consider whether the office has to be closed."

On Syria, Kerry has been pressing hard on Russia to back an international conference intended to end the bloodshed in Syria and allow a transitional government to move the country beyond civil war.

Russia has been the key ally of Assad's regime throughout the two-year conflict.

Top U.S. diplomats are ready to go to Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials next week to advance the political process, Kerry said. The date and location of the international conference on Syria haven't been announced, but it's already being dubbed "Geneva 2" because a similar event was held there a year ago.

On Friday, Russia's foreign minister said Washington was sending contradictory signals on Syria that could derail an international conference intended to end that country's civil war, warning that U.S. talk about a possible no-fly zone would only encourage the rebels to keep fighting.

Sergey Lavrov also criticized demands that Assad step down. Russian leaders warn that if Assad steps aside, the resulting power vacuum could be quickly filled by al-Qaida connected rebels, who are well-armed and aggressive.

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