France: Assad’s departure not necessary before transition
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France: Assad’s departure not necessary before transition

Despite apparent U-turn, Fabius says political change in Syria is necessary, and ‘there must be assurances for the future’

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks on the phone as he arrives for a conference on Syria in Vienna on November 14, 2015, a day after 130 people were killed in terror attacks in Paris. (AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR)
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks on the phone as he arrives for a conference on Syria in Vienna on November 14, 2015, a day after 130 people were killed in terror attacks in Paris. (AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR)

PARIS, France — French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says he no longer believes that Bashar Assad’s departure is necessary before any political transition in Syria.

“The fight against Daesh is crucial, but it will only be totally effective if all the Syrian and regional forces are united,” Fabius told the French regional newspaper Le Progres in an interview published Saturday.

“A united Syria implies a political transition. That does not mean that Bashar Assad must leave even before the transition, but there must be assurances for the future,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The United States and other Western powers fighting Islamic State jihadists, who claimed responsibility for the deadly November 13 attacks in Paris, have long insisted Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the Syrian conflict.

France has been adamant in its opposition to Assad, describing him as a “butcher” of his own people during the civil war that has so far claimed a quarter million lives and created millions of refugees.

On a trip to Washington last week, French President Francois Hollande reiterated his determination to see Assad step down in order to give Syria a chance for peace, saying “it should be as soon as possible.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking to Russian media outlets RT, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti and NTV channel, September 15, 2015. (Screenshot: RT)
Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking to Russian media outlets RT, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti and NTV channel, September 15, 2015. (Screenshot: RT)

A defiant Assad this week accused France and other Western countries of “supporting terrorists,” and said Syria’s devastating four-year civil war would only come an end when the West and its Middle Eastern allies ended this practice.

In a TV interview aired Tuesday on Czech TV, Assad said: “When those countries that I mentioned — France, UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some others — stop supporting those terrorists.”

The president also said that France had only stepped up its bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria after the Paris terror attacks “to dissipate the feeling of the French (people).” The bombing, he said, was “nothing serious.”

Since the 2011 outbreak of a revolt in Syria, the countries Assad named in the interview have demanded he step down and backed rebels fighting his troops.

Assad has meanwhile systematically referred to all his opponents — armed or unarmed — as “terrorists,” and accused Western and regional powers seeking his demise of supporting “terrorists.”

 

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