G-7 poised to send clear message to Russia on Syria

Foreign ministers and representatives of the G7 countries are to meet in the Italian city of Lucca to discuss the situation in Syria and ways to counter the so-called Islamic State terror group.
Foreign ministers and representatives of the G7 countries are to meet in the Italian city of Lucca to discuss the situation in Syria and ways to counter the so-called Islamic State terror group. PHOTO: EPA

LUCCA (Italy) • G-7 foreign ministers were yesterday set to send a "clear and coordinated message" to Russia over its stance on Syria as Washington ratcheted up the pressure following a suspected chemical attack in the war-torn country.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson set the tone for the meeting, describing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as "toxic" and saying it was "time for (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up".

"We will be discussing the possibility of further sanctions certainly on some of the Syrian military figures and indeed on some of the Russian military figures who have been involved in coordinating the Syrian military efforts," Mr Johnson said in a television clip shown on Britain's Sky News.

Top diplomats from the seven major advanced economies were in Italy for their annual two-day meeting, which had initially been expected to focus on talks with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about hot spots like Libya, Iran and Ukraine.

But the agenda was instead dominated by last week's suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Syrian town that killed at least 87 civilians, and the American cruise missiles fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation.

It was the first time Washington has intervened directly against the regime of Mr Assad, who is fighting a civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran, and the G-7 ministers will deliberate the West's next steps. Several rounds of UN- backed peace talks have failed to end the conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people since March 2011.

Washington's retaliation was slammed by Iran and North Korea and put it on a direct diplomatic collision course with Moscow, where Mr Tillerson heads today for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Yesterday, while at a ceremony to commemorate a Nazi massacre committed in Italy in 1944, Mr Tillerson said the US would stand up against anyone who committed crimes against humanity.

The US urged Russia on Sunday to rein in the Syrian regime, warning that any further chemical attacks would be "very damaging" to their relationship and suggesting any peace deal would be difficult with Mr Assad in power.

Italy has arranged a last-minute meeting today between the G-7 ministers and their counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Italian media said that the aim was "to avert a dangerous military escalation".

G-7 energy ministers yesterday failed to reach an agreement on a joint statement on climate change after the US asked for more time to work out its policies on climate change. "While this is under way, the US reserves its position on these key priorities," said Italian Industry and Energy Minister Carlo Calenda. "It was not possible to sign a joint declaration since it would not cover the whole range of topics in the agenda."

The ministerial meetings in Tuscany will prepare the way for a leaders' summit in Sicily at the end of next month.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'G-7 poised to send clear message to Russia on Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe