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Addis Ababa US Secretary of State John Kerry today told a BBC HARDtalk audience the world cannot stand by and allow Syria’s President Assad to ‘violate matters of conscience and standards of morality’.  The criticisms were made as Secretary Kerry took questions from young Africans as part of a BBC HARDtalk special programme, presented by BBC’s Zeinab Badawi.


Secretary Kerry added that if a peaceful resolution is not possible the US would support the opposition.  He also commented on the situation in Afghanistan saying talking to the Taliban remains an option.


The BBC HARDtalk special programme was recorded in Addis Ababa as leaders from across the continent gathered in the Ethiopian capital for the 50th Anniversary summit of the African Union.


The following are key quotes from Secretary Kerry’s appearance on BBC HARDtalk.  Please credit HARDtalk/BBC World News.  The full interview broadcasts on BBC World News on Tuesday, May 28th at 0330, 0830, 1430, and 2030 GMT. The interview was recorded on Sunday 26 May 2013.



Asked about the US position and on Syria, Secretary Kerry said:

JK: Assad is just trying to cling to power. He was given an opportunity to bring people in and make a reform, to have an election, to let people choose. Instead, he chose to use Scud missiles, artillery, aeroplanes with bombs and there is some evidence raising the question of whether he has used gas against his own people. That is a war crime. That is a violation of international law.


ZB:  And do you think he has used it? Do you think he has  the famous red line [crossed]…


JK: We have evidence but it's an intelligence community assessment. Assessments are not evidence that you're prepared to take to the world, which is why the [US] President has said he is going to deliberately and carefully examine this case but he has made it clear — if that determination winds up in the affirmative, then he will believe that has crossed the line and has a number of different options of what he would then do. The point I'm making is that Syria, because of all these other complications, we need to proceed … we have Israel next door, you have the question of Russians sending weapons, they go to the Hezbollah, that threaten Israel — so it's a much more complex equation.

But make no mistake. We are on the side of the Syrian people and the opposition writ large is representative of the Syrian people. And Assad has decided that he's going to do what his father did. His father killed 20,000 people plus in Homs and held on to power.  He has a very powerful secret police, a very powerful system of spying on people, arresting people, torturing people, killing people, putting them in jail. I don't think the world should stand by and allow somebody to violate matters of conscience and standards of morality the way he has.


 ZB: All right…


JK: Universally, within this region … I met last night with President Morsi of Egypt. He believes Assad must go. So does the Turkish Prime Minister, Prime Minister Erdogan, who used to be a friend of his. So do all the Gulf states and others in their community. So … And the Europeans, so, we believe that we are moving in a thoughtful, sensible way to try to get a negotiation, to see if we can implement a peaceful resolution but we will support the opposition as we go along if that is not possible.




Member of the audience: Sir Secretary of State, when I hear that the United States want to talk to the Taliban, I think we should not talk to the Taliban, this is pure nonsense.


JK: It's a good question. Did everybody hear it? It's about … The United States wants to talk to the Taliban and he thinks that's nonsense, that we shouldn't talk to terrorists. Do you want an answer now or…


ZB: Yes, actually answer that because it's a very direct one.


JK: Years ago, people thought that the United States shouldn't talk to China because of Mao Zedong and communism. But Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon thought otherwise and today we work with China. At the United Nations, China is joining us in trying to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. So you can't work things if you're not willing to explore the possibility that people will change their view and express something different.

The requirement for the Taliban to come to the table was that they agree that they will not engage in violence against other people, in violence against other countries, they won't engage in terrorism, that they will not threaten the Afghanistan constitution and so forth.

So, if they meet those standards we believe we should sit down and explore. You don't give up anything until you say yes.

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