Turkey has criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting that negotiations would have to be opened with President Bashar al-Assad to end the conflict in Syria.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency Monday that all Syria's current problems, on the fourth anniversary of the start of the uprising in March 2011, were caused by Assad’s government.
"What is there to be negotiated with Assad?" Cavusoglu was quoted as saying at the end of his visit to Cambodia.
"You are going to have what [kind of] negotiations with a regime that has killed over 200,000 people and has used chemical weapons?" he asked. "Up until now, what result has been reached [with the regime] through negotiations?"
Instead, he said all parties needed to work for a political "transformation" in Syria.
In an interview with CBS over the weekend, Kerry conceded that "we have to negotiate in the end" with Assad.
The U.S. has repeatedly accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons, even after a 2013 international agreement for its chemical arsenal to be moved out of the country and destroyed. Rights groups say regime forces have accelerated their use of internationally prohibited barrel bombs and other brutal weaponry against rebel fighters and civilians.
But while Washington once insisted that Assad would need to step down before peace could be achieved in Syria, Kerry and other officials have gradually walked back such rhetoric as Syria’s war drags on with no end in sight.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said later Sunday that Kerry was not specifically referring to Assad. She reiterated that Washington would never negotiate with the Syrian leader.
"By necessity, there has always been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of this process. It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate — and the secretary was not saying that," she said.
But Kerry's comment will exacerbate growing strains between Washington and Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pressed for the exit of Assad as the key for any solution to end the violence in Syria, and are frustrated that Washington's anti-Assad stance has been softened by the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which the U.S. considers a greater threat.
U.S. officials, in turn, have been disappointed by what they call Turkey's limited support for the U.S.-led campaign against ISIL, which the coalition has been striking across its vast territory in Syria and Iraq.
Ankara has so far declined to give the U.S. permission to use the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey as a base for raids against ISIL fighters in Syria.
But Cavusoglu said Monday that two issues had to be solved to bring peace to Syria: destroy ISIL and "other terrorist groups" and bring about a political transformation in Syria with the departure of the Assad government.
Al Jazeera and wire services