EU foreign ministers have said that Syria's president should play no role in the country's post-conflict future. The comments follow a recent, apparent shift in US policy.
European Union foreign ministers said ahead of a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday that they see no future for President Bashar al-Assad in post-conflict Syria. The statements come after the United States suggested its approach to reaching peace in the region will change.
Although both the US and EU have repeatedly demanded Assad step down in any peace deal, last week Washington indicated that Assad's resignation was no longer a priority. The US will instead concentrate its resources on a broader fight against jihadist militia like the so-called "Islamic State," said US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
But EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said she believed it "would be impossible" to return to the status quo in Syria after peace is restored in the country.
"It seems completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria will be exactly the same as it used to be in the past," she said as she arrived for the EU foreign ministers' meeting.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the changed US position might be "more realistic." While Gabriel said not insisting Assad step down from the start would limit the risk of deadlock, he also warned the US that the Syrian leader must be held accountable for his crimes.
"But there is one thing which cannot happen - that a dictator who committed horrible crimes in the region remains untouched," Gabriel said.
United Nations-sponsored peace talks should continue with the goal of creating a "new constitution, elections and a new and democratic government," Gabriel added. "This cannot be abandoned or subordinated to the conflict against Islamic State."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that his country did not imagine that a new, peaceful Syria could be led by Assad.
On Tuesday in Brussels, Mogherini and the UN will co-host a two-day conference on Syria's future. The meeting will focus on the country's devastating humanitarian situation after nearly seven years of war that have seen claimed more than 320,000 lives and displaced more than half the population.
While international efforts continue to search for a peace settlement, Mogherini stressed that any political outcome will ultimately be up to the Syrian people.
"This is for the Syrians to decide, that is clear," she said. "Any solution that can be acceptable by all Syrians, we will support it."
mcm/msh (AFP, AP)