Syria Daily: France Moves Closer to Russia, Treads Carefully Over Assad’s Chemical Attacks

By Scott Lucas – July 7, 2017 – eaworldview – Continuing its move towards Russia’s position on Syria’s conflict — and thus on Bashar al-Assad remaining in power — France hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday for discussions. Recently-elected French President Emmanuel Macron signalled the shift on June 21 when he told European newspapers, “The new perspective that I have had on this subject is that I have not stated that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a pre-condition for everything because nobody has shown me a legitimate successor.”

Yesterday Lavrov tried to drive home the change by using Russia’s framing that “terrorism” — a label covering all opposition to Assad — was the priority: “Terrorism is our number one enemy and to fight it we have to put everything else aside.”

Le Drian echoed the language of terrorism as common enemy. However, he carefully tried to bring in the complication of the Assad regime’s ongoing chemical attacks, including an April 4 sarin assault that killed at least 92 people and wounded almost 600 in northwest Syria.Hoping that Russia will finally endorse a 2013 UN Security Council resolution against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Le Drian said, “We are both opposed to the use of chemical weapons and what’s at stake is to be able to dismantle the regime’s chemical weapons’ stocks.”

Russia refused to back the Security Council after the Assad regime’s August 2013 sarin attacks near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, and it continues a high-profile campaign of denial of any Assad responsibility.

Le Drian also indicated he wants concessions from Russia to improve the humanitarian situation, but gave no indication of how those might be achieved. The UN says almost 700,000 Syrians are besieged — activists put the number closer to a million — with the large majority endangered by the Assad regime. The UN has been unable to deliver any assistance for almost two months, the longest suspension in the 76-month conflict, with the regime withholding permission.