Kerry: 'Strong Evidence' Assad Used Chemical Weapons

Secretary of State Kerry believes Syrian president may step down through a summit with Russians.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens to a reporter's question during a press conference Thursday with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino in Rome.

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America's chief diplomat believes the Assad regime has likely used chemical weapons against its own people, yet there is still room to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

John Kerry held the first ever Google+ Hangout for a sitting secretary of state Friday afternoon, and discussed his recent meeting with Russian authorities about the situation in Syria. He reiterated his faith in a potential upcoming international summit where Kerry believes foreign countries may be able to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

[HAGEL: U.S. Faces Consequences for Inaction in Syria]

Kerry says there is "strong evidence" the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, which President Barack Obama has said would be a "red line" for yet unnamed consequences.

"This fight is about the terrible choices the Assad regime has made, with its willingness to kill anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 of its own people now, to use gas, which we believe there is strong evidence of use of, to massacre people with Scud missiles, with artillery, and to really try to pretend this is somehow an outside affair, when really this is people within Syria fighting for a different future," Kerry said.

 

After the Google+ Hangout, the State Department did not immediately return requests for comments.

The secretary refers to frequent reports from the Assad regime claiming that violence within Syria is at least in part due to outside interference from countries such as the U.S. or Israel.

[READ: Syrian Opposition Groups Deny Chemical Weapons Attack]

Kerry said the political willpower exists to find a reasonable compromise to the violence in Syria. During his trip to Russia this week, he laid the groundwork for a potential upcoming summit in Geneva later this spring in which foreign countries can help Syria set up a transitional government.

This would follow a conference in Geneva in 2012 that focused on the fighting in Syria but gained no traction on pressuring Assad to step down.

"If we can get to this meeting in Geneva, the arguments will be very clear to everybody as to who is prepared to be reasonable, and who is not prepared to be reasonable," Kerry said on the Hangout. He believes a forum in which the Syrian people could have a fair choice in their leadership "could avoid war, and you could have a settlement."

"We owe it to the world to try to get there and to explore in good faith whether or not we can avoid the bloodshed, avoid the violence," he added. "It's not an easy path, but it is a path I think we, as a matter of conscience, are obligated to go down."

U.S. officials have so far distanced themselves from reports that either the Assad regime or rebel fighters have used chemical weapons, in violation of international law. Groups associated with the opposition movement claimed in mid March they had evidence the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against the rebel fighters.

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