PARIS • France no longer sees the departure of President Bashar al-Assad as a priority in the Syrian conflict, President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday, making the policy official for the first time.
The new French leader said instead that fighting extremists such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group had to be the international community's No. 1 goal in a conflict that grew out of protests against the Syrian President in 2011 but has since become increasingly complex and multifaceted.
"The real change I've made on this question is that I haven't said the deposing of Bashar al-Assad is a prerequisite for everything," Mr Macron said in an interview with several European newspapers, including Britain's Guardian, Spain's El Pais and Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "Because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor."
His comments were met with dismay by the Syrian opposition.
"Shame on France, whose leader Emmanuel Macron does not see Bashar as its enemy or an enemy to humanity," tweeted Mr Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main umbrella organisation of opposition groups.
Mr Macron said he now saw two key priorities in Syria. "My line is clear: one, a total fight against terrorist groups. They are our enemies... We need the cooperation of everyone to eradicate them, particularly Russia. Two, stability in Syria, because I don't want a failed state."
Mr Macron said the international community had made a "collective error" in thinking the conflict could be solved "only with military force", adding: "My deep conviction is that we need a political and diplomatic road map."
But he repeated his warning that the use of chemical weapons and the violation of humanitarian corridors set up to deliver aid to desperate Syrian civilians were "red lines", and that France would be willing to act alone in response.
Meanwhile, United States Defence Secretary James Mattis told his Turkish counterpart that weapons provided to the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria would be taken back once ISIS was defeated, Turkish Defence Ministry sources said yesterday. In a letter to Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik, Mr Mattis said the US had informed Turkey about the weapons it had given the YPG and that it would provide monthly lists of the arms supplied, the sources said in a statement.
Relations between the two Nato allies have become strained due to the support the US has given the YPG, which Turkey has fought in northern Syria, to support the campaign against ISIS. Turkey claims the YPG supports Kurdish terror groups waging a bloody campaign on its soil.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS