Tillerson blames Russia for chemical attack, Johnson says Assad is toxic and must go
Italy Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano welcomes US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he arrives for a meeting of the G7 Foreign Affairs Ministers in Lucca, Italy (AFP)
Monday 10 April 2017
G7 foreign ministers were on Monday to send a “clear and coordinated message” to Russia over its stance on Syria as Washington ratcheted up the pressure following a suspected chemical attack in the war-torn country.
“Russia failed in their committment to the international community” by not preventing the Syrian regime from carrying out the chemical attack, US Secretary of State Tillerson told CBS ahead of the meeting.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as “toxic”, saying it was “time for (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up”.
Top diplomats from the seven major advanced economies were in Italy for their annual two-day meeting. They were initially expected to focus on talks with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about Libya, Iran and Ukraine.
“The result of their failure has led to the killing of more children and innocents,”– Tillerson on Russia
The agenda has shifted following increased tension between Russia and the West over Syria, especially after last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun that killed at least 87 civilians, and the US cruise missiles fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation.
It was the first time Washington has intervened directly against the regime of Assad, who is fighting a civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran, and the G7 ministers will deliberate the West’s next steps.
Italy has arranged a last-minute meeting on Tuesday between the G7 ministers and their counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates “to avert a dangerous military escalation”, according to Italian media.
Assad must go
The US Secretary of State Tillerson said that while there is no evidence suggesting that the Russians were responsible for the attack, Moscow failed to abide by its promises of overseeing the destruction of the Syrian regime chemical weapons stockpile.
“The result of their failure has led to the killing of more children and innocents,” Tillerson said.
“We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” he said after he and other ministers visited the site of a Nazi massacre in Sant’Anna di Stazzema near Lucca, Italy.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with the media after he greeted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida (AFP)
Tillerson heads to Russia on Tuesday for talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The US urged Russia on Sunday to rein in the Syrian regime, warning that any further chemical attacks would be “very damaging” to their relationship and suggesting any peace deal would be difficult with Assad in power.
“We need to make it clear to Putin that the time to back Assad has gone,” UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said Monday, warning that Putin was “damaging Russia” by supporting Assad.
He called on Moscow to do “everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated”.
Tillerson would “deliver that clear and coordinated message to the Russians”, he said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the pressing task for the G7 was to “find a political solution, a political transition” in Syria, particularly if the West wanted to triumph over the so-called Islamic State (IS).
“The fight against terrorism cannot be effective if we do not link it to resolving the Syrian situation,” he said.
Several rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people since March 2011.
The G7 gathering in the Tuscan city of Lucca brought foreign ministers from the United States as well as Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan to the 15th century Ducal Palace.
The ministers, ushered out of the Tuscan sunshine and into the fresco-decorated palace for their first working session, were set to go on a walking tour of the city’s historic centre later before a working dinner in the majestic Palazzo Orsetti.
‘Use of chemical weapons a war crime’
In a separate meeting on Monday, the leaders of southern EU nations said that a US missile strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack was “understandable,” as diplomatic tensions mount over the incident.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at the summit of the EU southern countries (AFP)
“The strike launched by the United States on Shayrat Airfield in Syria had the understandable intention to prevent and deter the spread and use of chemical weapons and was limited and focused on this objective,” they said in a joint statement after a summit in Madrid.
Last week’s suspected attack on a rebel-held Syrian town killed at least 87 civilians, including many children.
In their statement, the southern EU leaders – including Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and French President Francois Hollande – condemned “in the strongest terms the air strike with chemical weapons”.
“The repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, both by the (Bashar al-) Assad regime since 2013 and by Daesh (Islamic State group) constitute war crimes,” they added.