In an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that a number of countries have “offered to step up and be peacekeepers” in the event of a peace deal in Syria.
Kerry was speaking with Rima Maktabi of Al Arabiya when he made his comments, the day after the beginning of the Syrian peace conference known as “Geneva II.” During the interview, Kerry was confronted with the fact that Iran had been invited — then disinvited — to take part in the talks, despite the role that the Islamic Republic is playing in fueling the conflict. Maktabi pointed out that Iran currently says that they, through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, are acting to protect Syria’s minority Shiites and Alawites, a claim that Kerry disagreed with. Instead, Kerry said, international troops could be sent to play that role.
“If peace could be made in Syria, 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, without going into detail about just who had made such an offer. “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 was quick, however, to deny that the U.S. would be sending any troops of its own to take part in such a hypothetical mission. “That is not what I said. I don’t think it would be appropriate. I don’t think anybody believes that American troops should be on the ground,” Kerry said. “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.” A request to the State Department on which countries were among those who are willing to provide troops went unanswered at press time.
The last time peacekeeping troops for Syria were seriously discussed was in 2012, a year into the conflict, when the Arab League proposed sending a joint mission with the United Nations into the country to protect civilians. Even at this point, with the fighting much more one-sided and the rebellion even more loosely organized, the idea was deemed to be too dangerous for the international community to take up wholeheartedly. A short-lived cease-fire between Damascus and the opposition allowed for the insertion of an observer mission — UNSMIS — but its mandate was allowed to lapse following a resumption in the fighting.
Kerry’s remarks didn’t seem to imply that another such cease-fire or peace deal was coming in the near future, noting that Assad is “not ready at this point in time” to step down. The secretary also did not mince words about the impact that the Syrian president remaining in power is having on his country. “Assad is putting all of Syria at risk today,” Kerry continued. “Assad is responsible for the potential disintegration of Syria. And the way – and Assad is the single biggest magnet for terrorists there is. He is a one-man super-magnet for terrorism.” That language echoes a similar statement from Kerry at the opening of the Geneva II talks yesterday.
The talks themselves got off to a shaky start on Wednesday, with a confrontation between Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon setting the tone for the rest of the day. Members of both the Syrian government and the opposition are due to reconvene on Friday for direct negotiations on a possible cease-fire, but optimism is currently lacking.