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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be involved in peace talks to end the Syrian war. Her words come as the West shows signs of softening its stance towards the leader.
Efforts to end the conflict in Syria must reach out to Assad, as well as other regional players, including allies of the Syrian leader, Merkel said on Thursday.
"We have to speak with many actors, this includes Assad, but others as well," Merkel said in a press conference at the end of the EU summit. "Not only with the United States of America, Russia, but with important regional partners, Iran, and Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia."
In late August, Merkel had said she would welcome Iran - which like Russia has given Assad its backing - playing a part in the discussions. Most Western countries have sought to exclude Iran from talks on Syria. Iran is viewed as one of Assad's strongest allies.
This month the chancellor also spoke of the need to engage with Russia on Syria. Moscow appeared to step up deliveries of military equipment to the pro-Assad side in recent weeks. Russia has built up its own military presence, including heavy equipment, fuelling fears that its support of Assad may help prolong the conflict.
Past call to 'step aside'
Merkel has in the past joined other Western leaders in calling on Assad to step aside. In a joint statement with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011, Merkel said Assad should "face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that while Assad would have to step down, that step need not happen immediately upon reaching a settlement to end the country's civil war.
'On the same side'
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told a UK parliamentary committee earlier this month that his government was prepared to see compromises with Russia and Iran that would see Assad play a role "for some months" in any transition process.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz went further, saying that the West should involve Assad in its fight against "Islamic State."
"One should not forget the crimes that Assad has committed, but also not forget the pragmatic view of the fact that in this fight we are on the same side," Kurz said.
Last week, Assad chided the West for "crying" over the influx of refugees to Europe, claiming that Western nations were supporting "terrorists" engaged in the battle against his regime.
rc/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)