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11 Apr 2017

G7 meet to talk Assad’s future

The Syrian problem will dominate the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy. The meeting is taking place just a few days after the US missile attack on Shayrat airbase in Syria. The attack was a retaliation against Assad’s forces, which allegedly used sarin gas on civilians in the Khan Seykhun village, near Idlib.

According to sources, the foreign ministers will try to press Russia to break ties with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which it supported from the beginning of the Syrian civil conflict in 2011. “I think that the Russians need a way out and forward. If you think about the position of Vladimir Putin now, he’s toxifying the reputation of Russia by his continuing association with a government that has flagrantly poisoned its own people,” said Boris Johnson in a statement. The British foreign minister urged Russia “to do everything possible about a political settlement in Syria and work in order to ensure that the shocking events of the last week won’t be repeated.”

Russia is not participating in the G7 meeting because it was expelled from the group over the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russian officials expressed their discontent over the US attack calling it “an attack against a sovereign state.” During a UN Security Council, the Russia deputy envoy condemned the action calling it “illegitimate”, and warned that the consequences for international stability could be extremely serious.  Russia’s response included the closing down of a communications line, between the Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry, which was used to avoid accidental clashes between the two forces in Syria.

Johnson cancelled an official visit in Moscow, after the attacks took place, commenting that it had been called off because “the developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally,” and “because of Russia’s support of the Assad regime.” Russia responded immediately stating that “the UK remains in the ‘shadow’ of its strategic partners. We do not feel we need a dialogue with London more than it does.” The British foreign minister said in a press conference that “the G7 will be discussing the possibility of further sanctions on some of the Syrian and Russian military figures who have been involved in the coordination of the Syrian military efforts.”

Theresa May discussed on telephone with Donald Trump about the current situation in Syria. The two leaders agreed, according to a Downing Street spokesman, that “a window of opportunity now exists in which we need to persuade Russia that its alliance with Bashar Al-Assad is no longer in its strategic interest. They agreed that Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow this week provides an opportunity to make progress towards a solution which will deliver a lasting political settlement.”

Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, will visit Moscow right after the end of the G7 meeting in Tuscany. As Boris Johnson said: “What we are trying to do is to give Secretary Tillerson the clearest mandate from us at the West, the UK, all our allies, to say to the Russians ‘this is your choice: stick with that guy, that tyrant, or work with us to find a better solution’,”.

Italy, which presides over the G7 meeting, has invited the foreign ministers of Middle Eastern countries to participate. Ministers from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and United Arab Emirates, all from countries that oppose Assad, will be included in the discussions.