Russia Must Choose between Assad and US – US Secretary of State

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Moscow must choose between good relations with the US and its allies and support for Iran, Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia Must Choose between Assad and US - US Secretary of State

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Photo: AP / Evan Vucci)

Russia must make a choice: either good relations with the US and its allies, or support for Iran, Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday, after a meeting with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized economies, held in Italy. The statement was made right before Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, where he plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and possibly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role,” Tillerson said. “Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia’s interests longer term.”

He also stressed that the US does not see any role for Assad in the future of the Arab country, noting that he had lost legitimacy.

“It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” the US Secretary of State said. “But the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view to the durability, the stability inside of a unified Syria.”

Speaking about the talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana, Tillerson pointed out that if the negotiations succeed in creating a durable ceasefire, Russia and Iran could generate momentum toward broader talks about a political transition in the country. He also stressed that the final political talks would take place in Geneva under the auspices of the UN.

“To date, Astana has not achieved much progress,” the diplomat said.

He also raised the topic of a chemical attack, carried out in the Syrian province of Idlib. Tillerson noted that it was unclear whether Moscow had failed to take seriously its obligation to clear Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. The diplomat pointed out that the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead,” as well as stressed that “we cannot let this happen again.”

Meanwhile, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that Russia does not consider the Tillerson’s statements on Syria, made before his visit to Moscow, as an ultimatum.

“Not as an ultimatum, I regard it as a political statement, as such a show of muscle before the start of the negotiations. This is quite in line with Washington’s approaches,” Zakharova said, appraising the statements of the US Secretary of State, made just before his flight to Moscow.

Earlier, press secretary for the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, pointed out that a “recitation of mantras” on the need of the Assad’s leaving does not bring closer to a political resolution of the Syrian conflict. He noted that the Geneva process and the Astana process, which is a reinforcing, integral element of the Geneva talks, were launched in order to find a peaceful solution. Peskov stressed that the search for solutions should be carried out precisely within the framework of these processes, with no alternative.

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