CNN's Elise Labott asked State Department spokesperson Marie Harf about Secretary of State John Kerry's comments praising Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for quickly complying with the U.N. resolution mandating the destruction of their chemical weapons Monday in the State Department press conference.
Labott suggested Kerry's remarks may be taken as a sign among the opposition that President Assad will not be inclined to negotiate his way out of power at the forthcoming diplomatic proceedings in Geneva.
Harf claimed the comments were merely intended to encourage the current regime and an eventual transitional Syrian government to continue the process of destroying Syria's chemical weapons.
The CNN reporter pointed out that any positive characterizations from U.S. officials implicitly lend legitimacy to Assad, complicating the objective of removing the Syrian president from power:
ELISE LABOTT: I want to ask about the secretary's comments on Syria today. They were kind of unusually positive towards the Assad regime and I think gave a little bit of credence to fears in the opposition that this cooperation with President Assad only gives him job security and makes — and makes him less inclined to feel that he needs to go to Geneva and negotiate his own ouster.
MARIE HARF: Well, let me say first that our position on the future of Barash al-Assad has not changed. Our position on him is the same: that he's lost all legitimacy to lead Syria, that we're working toward the Geneva II conference that gets us to place where both sides, by mutual consent, pick the transitional leadership of Syria. It's clear the opposition won't allow that. On the opposition side, right now Ambassador Ford is in Istanbul meeting with the opposition, including members of the SNC, including General Idris. The meeting I think lasted for three-and-a-half hours this weekend, was a very productive discussion. So we're continuing to work with the opposition, the SSC (ph) and the SNC. But the fact is that our position on Assad hasn't changed. As we go through this process of destroying Syria's chemical weapons, the regime or an eventual transitional government, will have the responsibility — some responsibilities, right, for allowing access and assisting in the destruction through allowing access and allowing inspectors. But our position on the fact that he must go has not changed, and this in no way is an indication that he can remain in power.
LABOTT: But when you say that he's lost all legitimacy to lead Syria and then the secretary says the Assad regime deserves credit, that in fact does give them a bit of legitimacy.
HARF: It doesn't at all. We've said from the beginning of the CW destruction process that the regime or whoever's in power, right — eventually, a transitional government will have responsibilities as part of this process. But that does not confer political legitimacy on them to lead their country going forward.