The Guardian reports: Boris Johnson has said Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power in Syria as he prepares for his first talks as the British foreign secretary on Tuesday with his US counterpart, John Kerry.
Johnson, who had previously argued Assad could help defeat the Islamic State (Isis) in Syria, made the statement within days of being appointed the UK’s top diplomat by its new prime minister, Theresa May.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph in December, Johnson, then mayor of London, said the west could not afford to be picky in its choice of allies since Isis in Syria could not be defeated without terrestrial forces.
“We need someone to provide the boots on the ground; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies,” he wrote.
“We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaida.
“Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian airstrikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaida-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.”
In a statement before Tuesday’s talks, Johnson said: “I will be making clear my view that the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power. The international community, including Russia, must be united on this.”
The official Foreign Office view is that Assad can stay only for a short period as part of a transitional government. [Continue reading…]