News ID: 176526
Published: 0700 GMT January 27, 2017

UK signals shift in policy on Syrian president

UK signals shift in policy on Syrian president

The UK accepts that Bashar al-Assad should be allowed to run for reelection in the event of a peace settlement in Syria, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, in a dramatic reversal of the British policy stretching back to the early days of the war that the Syrian president must go.

Speaking on the eve of Prime Minister Theresa May’s meeting with Donald Trump in Washington, the UK’s foreign secretary acknowledged that the inauguration of the new US president meant all sides needed to rethink their approach to Syria, the Guardian reported.

“It is our view that Bashar al-Assad should go, it’s been our longstanding position. But we are open-minded about how that happens and the timescale on which that happens,” Johnson told the Lords International Relations Select Committee.

“I have to be realistic about how the landscape has changed, and it may be that we will have to think afresh about how we handle this. The old policy, I am afraid to say, does not command much confidence.”

The official Foreign Office view has long been that Assad can stay only for a short period as part of a transitional government. In the days after he was appointed as foreign secretary in July last year, Johnson insisted that Assad had to go.

But the defeat of the terrorists in Syria's Aleppo, Trump’s determination to rebuild relations with Russia, and the Turkish rapprochement with Moscow have changed the equation.

“We have been wedded for a long time to the mantra that Assad must go, and we have not been able at any stage to make that happen, and that has produced the difficulty we now face,” Johnson said.

“We are getting to the stage where some sort of democratic resolution has got to be introduced … we believe in democracy, we support democracy, and if there is a political solution then I don’t think we can really avoid such a democratic event. I think that is the way forward.”

World powers have been fiercely divided over Syria's conflict since it first erupted in 2011, with Russia firmly backing Syria while some Persian Gulf Arab states and much of the West supporting those fighting against the Syrian government.

After weeks of heavy fighting, Damascus last month announced complete victory in the battle to liberate east Aleppo from terrorists.

The terrorist groups’ repulsion from Aleppo marks Assad’s greatest victory since the conflict began in 2011.

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