G7 Foreign Ministers have agreed to pursue a peaceful resolution to the war in Syria but added that President Assad must be removed from power. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now due hold crunch talks in Moscow.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major (G7) global powers piled the pressure on Moscow Tuesday, urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to cut ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end its "hypocrisy" in Syria.
However, a British proposal to slap further sanctions on Russian and Syrian officials was rejected.
Speaking on the back of two days of talks in the Tuscan town of Lucca, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that the G7's message to Russia was that "this hypocrisy has to stop."
Russia, Ayrault said, "needs to genuinely and sincerely engage with the political process to get ourselves out of this situation we found ourselves in."
France's top diplomat also told reporters that all ministers agreed there can be no peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria while Assad still holds power.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel had said earlier the group had agreed to pursue a "non-violent, non-military" solution to the conflict in Syria.
A future without Assad
The G7 foreign ministers agreed that any hope of peace in Syria would require Assad to be ousted from power. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US saw no role for Assad in Syria, but declined to pre-suppose how Assad's departure would occur.
Gabriel said it was imperative that Russia realign itself diplomatically. "I believe that it is almost inconceivable that Russia wants to stand on the side of such a murderous regime as that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the long haul," the German foreign minister said.
Those remarks were echoed by Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who stressed that military action would be the wrong solution, urging Russia instead to "insofar as possible be involved in the political transition process in Syria."
Ministers in Lucca had sought to send a "clear and coordinated message" ahead of Tillerson's crunch talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow Tuesday.
It follows a phone call yesterday between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Trump in which, according to May's office, the two agreed that there is currently a "window of opportunity" to persuade Russia that supporting Assad was "no longer in its strategic interests."
A joint communique released following the G7 talks called on Russia to leverage its influence with the Assad regime to bring the conflict to an end. "If Russia is prepared to use its influence, then we are prepared to work with it in resolving the conflict in Syria, pursuing a political settlement and ultimately contributing to the costs of stabilization and reconstruction," it said.
The G7 blames the Assad regime for last week's suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. More than 70 people were killed and hundreds were hospitalized for respiratory difficulties.
Two days later US launched a barrage of Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase in Shayrat in retaliation. The strike was unanimously welcomed by the US G7 allies.
No further sanctions
Italy's Alfano said that no consensus on whether to broaden sanctions against Russia and Syria was reached in Lucca. Isolating Russia or pushing it into a corner "would be wrong."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had said that fresh sanctions on Russian military figures should be considered as means of pressing Moscow to end its "toxic" relationship with the Assad regime.
However, other ministers, including Germany's Gabriel, have pushed for a more conciliatory approach. "Not everyone may like it, but without Moscow and without Tehran there will be no solution for Syria," Gabriel said.
Alfano stressed, however, that existing sanctions against Russia over its military activities in Ukraine would be upheld.
dm/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)