LONDON — Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Tuesday that leaders of Syria's U.S.-backed, moderate opposition have not committed to negotiate with the government of President Bashar Assad, a blow to efforts to settle the stalemated civil war at a peace table.
Kerry also acknowledged that a United Nations peace conference may not take place as planned next month, although he said he thinks it should. And he said that despite the U.S. view that Assad must leave office, his political fate would be a matter for the two sides in negotiations.
"That's for the parties to negotiate. That's not for us to predetermine," Kerry said following meetings in London with a group of nations promoting peace talks.
The United States and Russia have proposed a framework for talks that would set as a goal the establishment of a transitional government, which the Obama administration has long said would not include Assad.
But such an agreement appears to be a long shot, despite a diplomatic push by the United States, Russia and the United Nations over the past month. For starters, the U.S.-backed opposition bloc has lost political ground as Western- and Arab-backed rebels have lost ground on the battlefield. And on Monday, Assad suggested in a television interview that he could seek reelection in 2014, indicating he has no plans to step aside.
Neither side appears to have the military strength to defeat the other, offering the prospect of many more months of killing in a war that has claimed more than 100,000 people.
Because of their weakened position, the rebels and opposition figures have resisted pressure to quickly schedule talks in Geneva.
It was unclear after Tuesday's talks whether the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, would attend the talks as a united front. The Syrian National Council, a prominent group with representatives in the coalition, had said it would boycott the Geneva meeting.
Kerry met with foreign ministers from the "London 11" — a core group from the Friends of Syria group consisting of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States — and with senior Syrian opposition leaders.