Kerry says Syria’s Assad must go but timing negotiable

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has to go but the timing of his departure should be decided through negotiations.

Speaking after talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London on Saturday, Kerry called on Russia and Iran to use their influence over Assad to convince him to negotiate a political transition.

Kerry said the United States welcomed Russia’s involvement in tackling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria, but a worsening refugee crisis underscored the need to find a compromise that could also lead to political change in the country.

Related: Can Syrian rebels unite against Assad?

“We need to get to the negotiation. That is what we’re looking for and we hope Russia and Iran, and any other countries with influence, will help to bring about that, because that’s what is preventing this crisis from ending,” said Kerry.

“We’re prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table?”

Russia’s buildup at Syria’s Latakia airbase has raised the possibility of air combat missions in Syrian airspace.

Heavy Russian equipment, including tanks, helicopters and naval infantry forces, have been moved to Latakia, US officials said.

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