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America's war on Islamic militants is not aimed at helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power,” US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Friday.
The top US diplomat sought to dispel wariness that the "laser focus" on fighting ISIL terrorists has distracted from efforts to end the three-year global war on Syria in which over 200,000 people have been killed.
"This campaign is not about helping President Bashar Assad of Syria," Kerry shot back in an opinion piece Friday in the Boston Globe.
"We are not on the same side as Assad -- in fact, he is a magnet that has drawn foreign fighters from dozens of countries to Syria." "Assad lost legitimacy a long time ago," Kerry stressed.
US efforts to train and equip militants of the so-called Syrian opposition to fight ISIL terrorists "will promote conditions that can lead to a negotiated settlement that ends this conflict."
But new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told US reporters on Thursday that he had only backed the air strikes in Syria after being told that the Syrian army would not be targeted.
"We had a lengthy discussion with our American friends, and what they emphasized is their aim in Syria is not to destabilize Syria," Abadi said, quoted by the New York Times. Instead the aim was "to diminish the capability of Daesh," Abadi said, using the Arabic term for ISIL.
The Iraqi prime minister also said the United States had asked him to send a message via one of his advisors to the Assad government that it would not be a target of the strikes.
The fight against ISIL in Syria was raised in "in-depth" talks this week between Kerry and Lavrov, a State Department official confirmed.
"The US and Russia share an interest in defeating the kind of violent extremism that ISIL represents," the senior US official told a small group of reporters