Skip to main content

UK Foreign Secretary Hague: No role for Bashar al-Assad in future Syria

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 6:32 AM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
  • NEW: Syrian opposition leader says opposition groups will meet to decide on their approach
  • Kerry: Syrian opposition is not calling for al-Assad to go before it will join talks
  • William Hague: "President Assad has no role in a peaceful and democratic Syria"
  • Peace talks are due to take place in late November in Geneva, Switzerland

London (CNN) -- Syrian opposition leaders and the "Friends of Syria" group agree that planned peace talks in Geneva will aim to bring about a democratic transition for Syria in which President Bashar al-Assad plays no part, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday.

"We are clear that Syrian President Assad has no role in a peaceful and democratic Syria," he said.

Hague's words followed a Friends of Syria meeting that brought together foreign ministers from 11 core countries including the United States, Britain, France, Turkey and Gulf nations and Syrian opposition leaders.

It was aimed at bolstering the prospects for the peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland. They are expected to take place late next month, although no firm date has been set.

Hague said the London meeting had been "important and productive," held against a backdrop of "the Syrian regime's escalating use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force against the people of Syria."

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos
Syria's 'lost generation' in peril
Millions of Syrians, no homes
Stories from the streets of Syria
Stories from Syria's front line

Victims: Fire fell 'like rain' in Syria

The proposed Geneva conference between Syrian government officials and opposition leaders, intended to broker an end to the country's civil war, has been delayed several times.

Syrian war's brutality isn't going away

A key issue has been whether Syrian opposition leaders will agree to take part in the Geneva talks if their stated objective is not to remove al-Assad from power. It's still not clear whether they will attend.

Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, a key opposition group, said Tuesday's talks had been "positive" and "encouraging," and it was the first time that all 11 core Friends of Syria governments had agreed on key points.

The Syrian opposition groups will hold a general assembly in the coming days, where they will discuss their approach to the Geneva conference, he said.

Hague said the Friends of Syria had pledged to support moderate Syrian opposition groups at the talks. "Geneva offers the Syrian people the best hope to improve their lives," he said.

'Road map' to peaceful resolution

The Syrian opposition has set no preconditions for the talks other than that the aims agreed on at a first peace conference in Switzerland last year, known as Geneva I, should stand, Kerry told reporters.

"The opposition is not saying that Assad has to go before this negotiation. That is not what they're saying," he said.

"You can't have mutual consent if you're not talking to anybody. You have to go, engage in the discussion and see. ... The opposition has said that their condition is that the intent of this is that Assad goes, which is what happens if you implement Geneva I."

The position of the United States has not changed on the need for al-Assad to go, Kerry added.

"We believe that he has lost all legitimacy, all capacity to govern the country, and therefore it's hard to imagine any resolution in any other way," he said.

Kerry, who met with opposition leaders before the wider meeting Tuesday, said the agreement that came out of the Geneva I conference should not be discounted.

"The Geneva communique is more than a piece of paper, and it should not be a forgotten level of diplomacy. It is a road map that leads to a new future ... and it rids the country of violent extremist groups," he said.

The nations involved in Tuesday's talks, known as the "London 11," are committed to seeing the political process through and reaching a negotiated settlement, Kerry said.

Asked about reports that Saudi Arabia is frustrated over the U.S. approach to Syria, Kerry said he had had "frank" and "constructive" talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal over the past two days.

"I'm convinced that we're on the same page," he said.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reflects on front-line reports

Chemical weapons

International weapons inspectors have in the past month entered Syria to begin verifying and destroying its chemical weapons arsenal.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Tuesday that Syria's government had so far "fully cooperated in supporting the work of the advance team" of chemical weapons inspectors.

But some in the Syrian opposition have protested that this has done nothing to stop the killing of Syrian civilians using conventional weapons.

Kerry acknowledged progress toward removing al-Assad's chemical weapons, but he said that "does not remove the crisis and it does not remove the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding before the world's eyes."

According to the United Nations, well over 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 when government forces cracked down on peaceful protesters.

The United States and Russia announced in May that they would try to bring the warring parties to a second conference in Geneva to implement the peace plan they endorsed at Geneva I in 2012 that left open the question of whether al-Assad must leave power.

Read more: Polio cases suspected in Syria

Kerry said it would be up to the United Nations and joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to announce the date for the conference.

Difficulties to overcome

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said Sunday in Cairo that peace talks were scheduled for November 23 in Geneva, but the date is not firm.

"There are many arrangements to be made and many difficulties which must be overcome to make this conference possible," he said.

Syria's Deputy Prime Minister said last week that the "presumed dates" had been agreed to during a conference at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Brahimi said Sunday that he plans to meet with Russian and U.S. officials as well other representatives of the U.N. Security Council to finalize details.

He also stressed that no meeting could be held without a "convincing opposition that represents Syria's opposition population."

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 5:19 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
updated 6:19 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.