G7 foreign ministers insist there can be no peace solution for war-torn Syria with President Bashar al-Assad in power, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Tuesday.
The ministers, meeting in Italy as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson readies for crunch talks in Moscow, were agreed that "no future in Syria is possible with Bashar al-Assad", Ayrault told reporters.
He said the message for Russia was: "That's enough now. There must be an end to hypocrisy and a very clear return to the political process".
"This is not an aggressive stance towards Russia, rather a hand out-held, with clear intentions," he said.
Ayrault was speaking at the close of the two-day ministerial meeting of the G7 which groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued an ultimatum to Russia on Tuesday: Side with the U.S. and likeminded countries on Syria, or embrace Iran, militant group Hezbollah and embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction "doesn't much matter to the dead."
"We cannot let this happen again," the secretary of state said.
"We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role," Tillerson added in remarks to reporters. "Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia's interests longer term."
The United States has hardened its stance on Damascus since a suspected chemical weapons on a rebel-held Syrian town that killed at least 87 civilians and triggered a retaliatory US bombing raid on a Syrian air base.
The West is also pushing for Russia to rein in the Syrian regime, with the war now in its seventh year.
Tillerson headed from Italy to Russia, where he is set to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
A key focus since the chemical attack has been on increasing pressure on Russia, Assad's strongest ally, which has used its own military to keep Assad in power. The U.S. and others have said that Russia bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians at the hands of Assad given Moscow's role in guaranteeing the 2013 deal in which Assad was supposed to have given up his chemical weapons arsenal.
The U.S. raised the stakes significantly on Monday when a senior U.S. official said Washington has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria's chemical weapons attack. Yet the U.S. has no proof of Moscow's involvement, said the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity.
That accusation will hang over Tillerson's visit to Moscow, where he plans with meet with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and possibly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin declined to say whether Putin would meet with Tillerson, in line with its usual practice of not announcing such meetings ahead of time.
The United States has sought to minimize expectations for the trip or the likelihood that the U.S. will leave with any concessions from Russia regarding its support for Assad. Instead, the U.S. is hoping to use the visit — the first by a Trump Cabinet official to Russia — to convey its expectations to Moscow and then allow the Russians a period of time to respond.
Though intended to punish Assad for a chemical weapons attack, the U.S. strikes last week served to refocus the world's attention on the bloody war in Syria, now in its seventh year.
Diplomats gathered in Italy as U.S. officials in Washington floated the possibility of new sanctions on the Syrian and Russian military, plus the threat of additional U.S. military action if Assad's government continues attacking civilians.
At Tuesday's meeting in the walled Tuscan city of Lucca, the G-7 countries were joined by diplomats from Muslim-majority nations including Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The inclusion of those countries is important because the U.S. strategy for Syria involves enlisting help from Mideast nations to ensure security and stability in Syria after the Islamic State group is vanquished.
Edited by Ahram Online