In Doha, Kerry calls for political settlement in Syria

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged Saturday from meetings here with Western and Mideast counterparts who support Syrian rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and vowed to make every effort to end the conflict.

“Our discussions here that we have just engaged in and will continue will reaffirm the belief of every country represented here and many countries not represented here that the international community is strongly committed to ending the violence in Syria and to bringing about a peaceful resolution to the crisis,” he told the ministerial meeting.

“The continued bloodshed at the hands of the Assad regime and the increasing involvement of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah threaten the very prospects of a political settlement and of peace and the regime’s use of chemical weapons crossed President Obama’s and other nations’ red lines.

“And we also condemn — all of us — any atrocity or any excess by any extremists or by any oppositionist group that might engage them.”

Kerry said he was seeking a political settlement, not a military one, even as he expressed support for aiding the opposition. “Reliable civilian governments and a stronger and more effective armed opposition will better enable the opposition to be able to provide the counterweight to the initiative of Assad to reach out across borders — trans boundary — to bring Iranians, to bring Hezbollah — again, a terrorist organization — to the table.”

The diplomatic group, known as the London Eleven, is meeting in Doha to help shift the balance of power on the Syrian battlefield away from al-Assad and into the hands of his enemies.

But they are up against support for his government by Russia, China, Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Al-Assad has the upper hand militarily, due to his access to air power and heavy artillery, including tanks. Rebel forces have no air power and are equipped mostly with small arms.

Russia is supplying al-Assad with heavy arms, Republican Sen. John McCain from Arizona, has said.

But Syrian rebels said this week that they have received anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles from “brotherly nations that support the Syrian revolution.”

There was no indication the United States was involved in the shipments. Oil-rich Gulf nations have supplied the rebels with arms in the past.

Washington is providing more than $815 million in humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict and has committed $250 million in nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition.

The CIA is training a number of Syrian rebel forces at bases in Jordan, according to senior U.S. officials.

Combatants entering Syria from other countries are also fueling the fight.

Foreign Sunni militants are joining the ranks of the rebels. One of the largest groups, the al-Nusra Front, is affiliated with al Qaeda in neighboring Iraq.

Around 5,000 Shiite fighters from Hezbollah have taken up arms in Syria in support of the government, McCain said.

The London Eleven is an offshoot of the international Friends of Syria, which supports the rebel movement.

The 11 comprises the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The meeting is the first leg of a tour of the Middle East and Asia by Kerry that will include visits to U.S. allies Israel and India.

CNN’s Ben Brumfield wrote and reported from Atlanta; Reza Sayah reported from Doha. CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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