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Tillerson Urges Russia to End Support for Assad

  • VOA News

Italy's Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano (L) welcomes US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he arrives for a meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised countries on April 10, 2017 in Lucca, Tuscany. Italy's Foreign

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he hopes Russia will abandon its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after last week's deadly chemical attack.

"It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,'' Tillerson said in Italy where he has been attending talks with other G-7 foreign ministers. Syria has been the focus on the talks that come ahead of Tillerson's trip to Moscow where he is due to meet with Russian officials.

On the sidelines of the talks in Italy, Tillerson was meeting with counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates about the U.S. response to last week's Syrian chemical weapons attack.

Britain's Foreign Minister Boris Johnson addresses the U.N. Security Council, March 23, 2017.
Britain's Foreign Minister Boris Johnson addresses the U.N. Security Council, March 23, 2017.

'Game has now been changed'

After his own meeting with Tillerson on Monday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that after the U.S. launched cruise missiles at a Syrian air base, "The game has now been changed."

Johnson said allies will be discussing adding new sanctions against Syrian military figures, and also members of the Russian military who have coordinated Syrian efforts and are as Johnson said, "contaminated by the appalling behavior of the Assad regime."

Later Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke by telephone with U.S. President Donald Trump. Her office said the two leaders agreed there is now a "window of opportunity" to persuade Russia that allying with Syria is no longer in its interest.

A White House statement on that conversation, and one between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said all three agree on the importance of holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, April 5, 2017.

Tillerson honors civilians

Tillerson joined other G-7 foreign ministers in laying a wreath Monday at a Tuscan village where Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during World War II. He alluded to the American retaliatory airstrikes in Syria after Damascus launched a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds more.

"We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world," Tillerson said. "This place will serve as an inspiration to us all."

Aside from the six-year-old Syrian civil war and Russia's alliance with Assad, the G-7 foreign ministers also face other daunting issues, including the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and Moscow's support of pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine waging battles with the Kyiv government.

G-7 leaders to meet in May

The leaders of the G-7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S. — are gathering for their own summit in Italy in May; but, the foreign ministers meeting Monday and Tuesday are laying the groundwork for those talks, with a priority on their collective efforts to oust Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq.

Tillerson said Sunday the United States remains committed to an international roadmap developed in Geneva in 2012 for bringing an end to the conflict in Syria, now in its seventh year. When that plan was developed, the civil war was just more than a year old and has since become a massive humanitarian disaster.

The Geneva Communique calls for a new Syrian constitution and elections, but does not specify the fate of Assad. U.S. officials have in recent days offered contradictory statements on the long-held U.S. policy that Assad should be ousted. Tillerson has called for Assad's removal, but said Islamic State is the focus for now.

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