Kerry: Syrian Regime's 'Days Are Numbered'

Robert Siegel talks to Senator John Kerry, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, about what the U.S. or other foreign governments might do to prevent the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Syrian civilians.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This morning, the Senate Foreign Relations committee heard from the U.S. ambassador to Syria and the assistant secretary of state for the region, who told them this, the demise of the Assad regime is inevitable. It's important that the tipping point for the regime be reached quickly. All of the elements of U.S. policy towards Syria are channeled toward accelerating the arrival of that tipping point.

Well, joining us now from Capitol Hill is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY: How are you? Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, with Syrian troops and tanks surrounding the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, is there anything that the U.S. or other foreign governments might do to prevent the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Syrian civilians there?

KERRY: Well, it's very difficult to have any kind of direct military or other kind of intervention right now for a lot of different reasons. But, that said, there is a concerted effort to try to bring greater public opinion to the table in order to try to influence the Russians, the Chinese and especially the Assad regime itself to take a different course.

SIEGEL: Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton and recently of the State Department has proposed that the Free Syrian Army set up no-kill zones near Syria's foreign borders, near corridors for humanitarian aid and that countries who are in the friends of Syria group arm and train the Syrian dissidents for defensive purposes. Is that a good proposal or does that still require the support of the Chinese and the Russians?

KERRY: There are many proposals like that that are being considered right now. I think the first step is to try to establish a legitimate humanitarian corridor for the people of Syria itself, even as there is a greater effort to try to flesh out who the Free Syrian Army are, who the National Council is, the Syrian Council. I mean, there are a lot of undefined components here. This is not the Libyan National Council.

It doesn't have the same kind of level of definition that that did at an early stage, nor are we dealing with as individual a kind of a governance as you had under Gadhafi, a cult of personality. Here you have a much broader institutional base supporting Assad and the potential for much greater sectarian bloodshed and larger consequences regionally. So, I think you have to approach this step by step, but everything is under consideration.

SIEGEL: You've said, and you said today that you're convinced the Assad regime is doomed. Some people have observed that now that the crisis has been militarized, the advantage is, in fact, with the regime and with the military, with the army. Are you confident that the Syrians can't silence the opposition, which is outgunned, the way that President Assad's father silenced Islamist dissidents 30 years ago?

KERRY: I don't believe that that can be done the way it was done 30 years ago because 30 years ago it could be done and nobody in the world knew about it on a day to day basis. Today, that's physically impossible. And that's why there is, in fact, this opposition today. Secondly, the economy of Syria is in a downward spiral. Their reserves will run out at some point. There is a huge uncertainty in the business community.

Thirdly, I think, over time, if the Syrian opposition gets organized and becomes armed, which it has the ability to do, I think you're going to see a different balance. But I think this is a regime whose days are numbered.

SIEGEL: As you've noted, Syria, unlike Libya, is not simply a matter of a personality cult passing for a regime. There's a party, it's aligned with one of the ethnic groups or religious groups in Syria. There are many people who are a part of it. When you think in terms of transition, it would seem that you need something more than just a plane ticket and some asylum for Bashar al-Assad. There would be thousands of people...

KERRY: That's very accurate.

SIEGEL: ...that would have to be dealt with in some way, if not more than that.

KERRY: You're absolutely correct. This is part of what complicates this and this is what - when I or someone else suggests that the regime's days are numbered, this is not Libya, this is not Egypt, this is not Tunisia. This is a very different situation where you have several hundred thousand person military. You have major business interests supporting the regime still, although very, very upset and very querulous about the future path.

You have an Alawite minority, perhaps 11, 12 percent of the country, that is governing the country through the Assad family and regime; and the majority Sunni - 60, 65 percent - who are outside of that. So there's great fear about the potential of a sectarian upheaval here, given the stakes.

SIEGEL: Senator Kerry, thanks for talking with us.

KERRY: Thank you, appreciate it.

SIEGEL: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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