Kerry promises protection for Syrian minorities

Secretary of State John Kerry vowed Thursday to protect Syria's religious minorities if they abandon Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Kerry, speaking to a reporter for the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, said Assad is endangering Alawites and other minorities by attracting Islamist extremists to his war-torn country. He said Assad is “not ready” to give up power, but united pressure from Syria's neighbors could yet force him out.

“If there is a peace agreement, there are many countries that have already offered to step up and be peacekeepers in the new Syria,” Kerry said on the eve of peace talks between the Assad regime and the opposition in Switzerland. “There is no question but that we are all prepared to help provide protection for all of the minorities. I say to any of the Alawite who are fighting with the belief that somehow only Assad can protect them: That is not true. Assad is putting them at risk today.”

Kerry ruled out U.S. boots on the ground.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate,” he said. “I don’t think anybody believes that American troops should be on the ground. But there are many countries whose troops could be accepted and that would be willing to be able to be there as peacekeepers. I have no question of that.”

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He did suggest however that the U.S. could support the Syrian army in its fight against al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, once Assad is gone.

“Not in the current circumstances, obviously,” Kerry said when asked if the U.S. would arm Syrian forces. “But if we had a transition government, and if the transition government was moving towards a democratic process, where the people of Syria can choose their leadership for the future, it is conceivable that in those circumstances, the Free Syrian Army would become an instrument against the radical extremist elements.”

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