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10 Apr, 2017 09:55

Russia must choose between ‘toxic’ Assad & G7 nations, Boris Johnson says

Russia must choose between ‘toxic’ Assad & G7 nations, Boris Johnson says

Russia must decide whether it will stick with the “toxic” Assad government or work with the rest of G7 on a political solution in Syria, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said, adding that G7 nations on Monday will discuss the possibility of further sanctions against Syrian and Russian figures.

Russia and Iran warned jointly on Sunday that they would “respond with force” if there were further US attacks on Syrian government forces. They said American military intervention is a “violation of international law.”

Johnson wants Western nations to draw up “very punitive sanctions” in response to last week’s alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held area, in which up to 90 people were killed.

A paper on sanctions has been prepared for a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Lucca, Italy, which starts on Monday. Johnson wants the G7 to issue a joint declaration that Russia should end its support for Assad and remove its forces from the war-torn country.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will take the plan to Moscow on Wednesday.

The US and EU have already imposed an array of sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses. In 2014, when a coup in Kiev resulted in the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea voting to become part of Russia, and conflict emerged between Kiev and eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, the UK began imposing sanctions on Russia.

Johnson believes the alleged chemical attack and US President Donald Trump’s response by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase presents a new opportunity to end the six-year civil war. The US had delivered “a clear and united message” from the West, and “crucially – they could do so again,” Johnson told the Sun.

He said Trump had shown “a resolve and willingness that has been sadly missing in the last few years.”

“We cannot miss this moment. It is time for Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is still propping up,” Johnson said.

Russia has consistently denied that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, insisting the incident at Khan Sheikhoun was caused by a hit on a rebel chemical weapons plant.

Johnson’s decision to pull out of Moscow trip ‘daft’

Johnson has been lambasted for pulling out of planned talks on Monday with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Critics said the move left him looking “daft” and as though he “can’t be trusted.”

Tillerson will go ahead with his planned trip to Moscow on Wednesday to deliver a “clear and coordinated” message to the Kremlin about removing its support for Assad.

Johnson canceling his own trip, however, makes him look like “some sort of ‘Mini Me’” who can’t hold his own talks with Lavrov, Scottish National Party (SNP) foreign affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said.

“Boris Johnson just looks daft. What is the argument for not going ahead with a visit? Rex Tillerson is going on Wednesday so it can’t be that we have moved to a Cold War position of no talking whatsoever,” he told the BBC.

“The idea the foreign secretary can’t be trusted because he might pursue his own line or have an independent thought or crossover what the Americans are going to say just makes him look like some sort of mini-me to the United States of America.

“That’s not the position any foreign secretary would want to be in.”

“Boris Johnson looks in deep political trouble this morning,” Salmond added.

Meanwhile, Russia has said Britain has “no real influence.” In a statement it said Johnson’s trip cancelation “once again confirms doubts about the added dialogue with the British, who don’t have their own position on the majority of current issues.”

It added there was a “fundamental misunderstanding or ignorance of what is happening in Syria and Russia’s efforts to resolve the crisis.”