Obama says Assad must go for peace in Syria

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Friday reaffirmed US insistence that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad step down, warning there can be no peace there without a legitimate government.

”I think that Assad is going to have to leave in order for the country to stop the blood(shed), for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a nonsectarian way,” Obama said at a year-end news conference.

”He has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the country.”

Obama spoke as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting of foreign ministers in New York to discuss a political settlement to the nearly five year-old war.

A UN draft resolution was to be presented at the UN Security Council later in the day that calls for Syrian peace talks to begin in early January.

Obama said Assad’s remaining in power, after having chosen to ”slaughter” his people rather than pursue an inclusive political transition, ”is not feasible.”

”As a consequence, our view has been that you cannot bring peace to Syria, you cannot get an end to the civil war unless you have a government that it is recognized as legitimate by a majority of that country. It will not happen,” he said.

He said Kerry’s efforts in New York offered ”an opportunity, not to turn back the clock — it’s going to be difficult to completely overcome the devastation that’s happened in Syria already — but to find a political transition that maintains the Syrian state, that recognizes a bunch of stakeholders inside of Syria and hopefully to initiate a ceasefire.”

He said such a ceasefire ”won’t be perfect, but allows all the parties to turn on what should be our number one focus and that is destroying Daesh and its allies in the region.”

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, the jihadist movement that now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, and claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Paris November 13. (AFP)