G7 seeks united front on Assad, Russia

Indo Asian News Service

Rome, April 10 (IANS) Last weeks suspected chemical attack in Syria and Russias support for the Bashar al-Assad regime were likely to top the agenda as G7 Foreign Ministers on Monday gathered for a meeting in Italy.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a hardline note over the weekend, telling CBS News that the Russians had failed to prevent the Syrian regime from carrying out a chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province which left 89 people dead.

Tillerson is due to travel to Moscow on Tuesday and has pledged to take a "clear and coordinated message" to his scheduled talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

The meeting in the Italian city of Lucca brings together foreign ministers from the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

It had been expected that ministers would focus on hotspots such as Libya, Iran and Ukraine, but top of the agenda is the attack on Syria's Khan Sheikhun, and the US cruise missiles fired at a Syrian airbase in retaliation, the Guardian reported.

The meeting will also focus on North Korea's intention to continue its nuclear and missile weapons programme, the situation in Iraq and the complete integration of Iran in the international community.

The two-day meet, which is a precursor to the G7 summit in May in the Italian city of Taormina, comes at a time of increasing concern among Western nations over terrorist threats and conflicts in the Middle East.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said during the weekend that she saw regime change in Syria as one of the Trump administration's priorities in the country.

"There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime," Haley told CNN, while reiterating that defeating ISIS was still the number one policy goal.

"If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad," she said.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is expected to call for new sanctions against Russia if it refuses to back down from its support for Assad, the daily reported.

Johnson cancelled a scheduled visit to Moscow, saying his priority was now "to continue contact with the US and others".

He called on Russia 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".

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Johnson's cancellation displayed a "fundamental misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of the events in Syria, Russia's efforts to settle that crisis and the general objectives of diplomacy".

Also, the Russian embassy in London said that if Moscow was given an ultimatum to take its forces out of Syria and cut ties with its leader this week it could result in "real war".

Meanwhile, Italy has arranged a meeting on Tuesday between the G7 ministers and their counterparts from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar.

The Italian media said the aim was "to avert a dangerous military escalation".

On Tuesday, there will be a second session, which will be followed by a press conference to brief the media regarding the outcome of the meeting.

--IANS

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