March 18, 2015 / 1:23 PM / in 2 years

U.S. wants Assad out, Germany says talks with him may be necessary

ISTANBUL/BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States still wants a negotiated political settlement in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad, according to a senior U.S. envoy, but Washington's close ally Germany said talks with the Damascus government might still be necessary.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosted talks of the coalition against Islamic State on Wednesday which included the U.S. special envoy John Allen, the pair appeared to contradict each other on how to handle Assad's government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns among Middle East allies who want Assad removed when he said on Sunday that the United States would have to negotiate with the Syrian president, who has been fighting Islamist and other rebels since 2011.

The U.S. State Department that Kerry heads later maintained that he had not specifically referred to the Syrian leader, and that Washington would never bargain with him.

On Wednesday, Allen said Assad had no legitimacy as a ruler.

"General Allen reiterated that the United States position on Assad has not changed," the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said in a statement late on Tuesday after Allen held talks there.

"The United States believes that he has lost all legitimacy to govern, that conditions in Syria under his rule have led to the rise of ISIL (Islamic State) and other terrorist groups, and that we continue to seek a negotiated political‎ outcome to the Syrian conflict that does not in the end include Assad."

But Steinmeier was quoted in German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday as saying: "The only way to an end to the violence is via negotiations for a political solution, even if that makes talks with the Assad regime necessary."

Kerry's comments at the weekend drew condemnation in Turkey, one of Assad's most strident opponents, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying negotiating with the Syrian leader would be like shaking hands with Adolf Hitler.

Allen and Steinmeier decline questions from reporters at the start of the meeting on how to stabilize Iraq and Syria once Islamic State, which Steinmeier called "one of the most abhorrent terrorist organizations mankind has ever seen", is beaten.

Steinmeier told the meeting the prime responsibility for improving the situation in Syria lies with Damascus, which must halt what he called "massive violence" against its own people.

But he pointed to a risk that success against the insurgents in Iraq could further complicate the situation in Syria. "ISIL (Islamic State) has grown strong in Syria and there is a risk that success in Iraq may push ISIL back into Syria, where Assad has so far shown little enthusiasm to fight them."

Reporting by Nick Tattersall and Stephen Brown; Editing by David Dolan and Mark Heinrich

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