G-7 ministers agree Assad must go

Syrian university students staging a protest yesterday in front of the United Nations office in Damascus against the US missile strike on a Syrian airbase last Friday.
Syrian university students staging a protest yesterday in front of the United Nations office in Damascus against the US missile strike on a Syrian airbase last Friday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

No peace solution for war-torn Syria as long as he remains in power, say foreign ministers

LUCCA (Italy) • Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministers have agreed that there can be no peace solution for war-torn Syria with President Bashar al-Assad in power.

"We hope that the Russian government concludes that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner in Bashar Al-Assad," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after a two-day meeting with his G-7 counterparts.

Mr Tillerson, who spoke to reporters in Italy shortly before heading to Moscow for meetings with top officials, said Russia should rethink its decision to ally with Syria, Iran and Hizbollah in the Middle East.

He said the US decision to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria after an April 4 chemical weapons attack was "necessary as a matter of US national security interest".

"We want to create a future for Syria that is stable and secure," he said. "Russia can be part of that future and play an important role or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group which we believe is not going to serve Russia's interest longer term."

TRANSITION QUESTION

It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, but the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view to the durability, the stability inside a unified Syria.

US SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON

Mr Tillerson reiterated the US policy that it will first focus on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and then shift to the political future of Syria. But he made explicit that the United States sees no future for the Assad regime in Syria.

"It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, but the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view to the durability, the stability inside a unified Syria," he said.

France's Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault echoed Mr Tillerson's view on Mr Assad's future.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said the G-7 ministers failed to agree on whether fresh sanctions should be imposed on the Syrian leader or Russia, an issue British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson raised earlier.

Mr Tillerson reiterated his criticism of Russia for failing to guarantee a 2013 agreement to secure and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

The US attack was also motivated by a refusal to accept what he called "the normalisation of the use of chemical weapons" in Syria and elsewhere. He also said the US does not want the regime's chemical weapons to fall into the wrong hands.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday appeared to lower the threshold for new US action against Mr Assad to include barrel bombs, a crude yet hugely destructive weapon of choice for the Syrian leader.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had information that the US was planning to launch new missile strikes on Syria, and that there were plans to fake chemical weapons attacks there.

Mr Putin, standing with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who was in Moscow for talks, said Russia would tolerate Western criticism of its role in Syria but hoped that attitudes would eventually soften.

When asked whether he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, he said: "We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared... in other parts of Syria, including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons)."

He did not offer any proof for that assertion.

Mr Tillerson, on his first visit to Moscow as secretary of state, is due to hold talks with Mr Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, today.

He is not due to meet Mr Putin.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'G-7 ministers agree Assad must go'. Print Edition | Subscribe