G7 meeting puts pressure on Russia to stop backing Assad

Published April 11th, 2017 - 05:00 GMT
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) speaks with High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini during a meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers from the G7 on April 10, 2017 in Lucca, Tuscany. (AFP/Vincenzo Pinto)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) speaks with High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini during a meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers from the G7 on April 10, 2017 in Lucca, Tuscany. (AFP/Vincenzo Pinto)

The United States and Britain led calls at a Group of Seven (G7) meeting for Russia to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been blamed by the West for a chemical weapons attack on civilians. 

Donald Trump's decision last week to bomb a Syrian airbase in response to the chemical attack has confounded expectations that the new US president would lead an isolationist foreign policy, and has angered Moscow, a staunch Assad ally. 

The US will not allow "crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world" to go unpunished, State Secretary Rex Tillerson said at a ceremony at the site of a World War II Nazi massacre in Italy.

Tillerson travelled to the Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema - where 560 civilians were executed by retreating German troops in 1944 - hours before G7 foreign ministers started a two-day meeting in the nearby medieval town of Lucca.

"We will be discussing the possibility of further sanctions, certainly on some of the Syrian military figures and indeed on some of the Russian military," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on arrival, as quoted by the Press Association.

Sanctions could target "figures who have been involved in coordinating the Syrian military efforts and are thereby contaminated by the appalling behaviour of the Assad regime," Johnson added.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on Russia to leave "the corner of Assad's support" and join forces with the West in starting "a common political process" to end Syria's six-year civil war. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has slammed the April 6 US strike against Syria as an "aggression against a sovereign country."

Russia was suspended from the G8, turning it into the G7, after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

G7 nations were closing ranks ahead of Tillerson's visit to Moscow, on Wednesday. At the weekend, Johnson cancelled a trip to the Russian capital, saying he would let his US colleague deliver a "clear and co-ordinated message to the Russians."

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 87 people, including 31 children, died in an April 4 chemical weapon attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun. It has been widely attributed to the Syrian government, which denies responsibility.

North Korea was also on the G7 agenda, amid a US decision to send aircraft carriers near the Korean Peninsula in response to Pyongyang's missile testing last week, just ahead of a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

North Korea's sabre-rattling are "a serious threat to order and security not just for Asia, but for the entire world, Europe and North America included," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the ANSA news agency.

Islamist terrorism and Libya, the war-torn country that is a conduit for Europe-bound migrants were among the other agenda items in Lucca. The G7 talks also offer the Trump administration a chance to explain some of its controversial stances to allies.

"We are waiting to see what the new American administration thinks about multilateralism, the fight against climate change and openness to trade," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in an ANSA interview. 

The G7 is made up of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US. The European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, and foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates were also invited to Lucca.

By Alvise Armellini


© 2022 dpa GmbH

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