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11 Apr, 2017 09:52

May & Trump agree to press Russia on breaking ties with Syria’s Assad

May & Trump agree to press Russia on breaking ties with Syria’s Assad

UK PM May and US President Trump have agreed to press Russia over the crisis in Syria, saying a “window of opportunity now exists” to persuade the country that its links with Syrian President Bashar Assad are no longer in its strategic interests.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump spoke about Syria over the telephone on Monday evening, May’s spokesperson said.

Last week, an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held area in Idlib killed up to 90 people, and Trump ordered a “retaliatory” missile strike on a Syrian airbase.

Damascus and Moscow have consistently denied that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, insisting the incident at Khan Sheikhoun was caused by a strike on a rebel chemical weapons plant.

“Theresa May spoke with US President Trump to discuss last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria and the US response,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The president thanked the prime minister for her support in the wake of last week’s military action against the Assad regime.

“The prime minister and the president agreed that a window of opportunity now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest.”

Trump also spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and agreed “on the importance of holding… Assad accountable,” the White House said in a statement.

May’s spokesperson said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Moscow this week with the aim of persuading Russia to distance itself from Assad and to “make progress towards a solution which will deliver a lasting political settlement.” Tillerson has said there is “no role” for Assad in governing Syria.

May, who is on a walking holiday in Wales with her husband, is being kept up to date with the events in Syria, her spokesperson added.

At a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Italy on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his backing for Assad. If Russia continues to support the Syrian government, they will be “contaminated” by its actions and could find themselves the target of new international sanctions, Johnson said.

“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 figures who have been involved in coordinating the Syrian military efforts and are thereby contaminated by the appalling behavior of the Assad regime.”

Johnson said Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles against a Syrian air base had “changed the game” and the Russians had to decide what side they are on.

He defended his decision to pull out of talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, saying Tillerson had the “clearest possible mandate” when he went to Moscow to deliver the G7’s response. Critics had called the move “daft,” and as though he was “Trump’s poodle.” May’s spokesperson refused to be drawn on whether the UK would support further US military action, saying it was a “hypothetical question.”

The US president’s press spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday that further action would be considered in certain circumstances. 

Russia said on Tuesday it would not shoot down US missiles if Trump orders another Syrian airstrike because they are "there to fight terrorism, not external threats."