US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has issued Russia with an ultimatum, saying it must side with the United States and likeminded countries or embrace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah.
- Tillerson says last week’s actions stripped Mr Assad of all legitimacy
- Statement came shortly before leaving for Moscow, following urgent G7 meeting in Italy
- G7 nations ignore calls by US, Britain for new sanctions on Moscow
- Italian Foreign Minister says Russia must not be “pushed into a corner”
The statement came after a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers in Italy, following last week’s apparent chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces.
Mr Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent.
But he said the distinction did not “much matter to the dead”.
“We cannot let this happen again … we want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people,” he told reporters shortly before leaving for Moscow.
“Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role, or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia’s interests longer term.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it hoped for “productive talks”.
It said the outcome of the discussions was important not only for the Russia-US relationship, but “for the overall atmosphere on the world stage”.
‘Assad’s reign is coming to an end’: Tillerson
The G7, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, blames the Syrian military for the deadly chemical attack.
The ministers who met in Lucca, in central Italy, strongly supported the US missile strikes that targeted the Syrian air base believed to have been used to launch the attack.
But Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said Russia must not be “pushed into a corner” over Syria, as Britain and the US called for new sanctions on Moscow over its support of Mr Assad.
Mr Alfano said the US intervention had offered “a window of opportunity to construct a new positive condition for the political process in Syria”.
But he said a political rather than military process was “the only solution”, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
Mr Tillerson said the chemical attack had stripped Mr Assad of all legitimacy and it was clear the US saw no role for Mr Assad in Syria’s future.
“It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” he said.
“We hope that the Russian Government concludes that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner in Bashar al-Assad.”
He said ceasefire talks that Russia and Iran had helped broker in the Kazakh capital, Astana, could generate momentum toward broader talks about a political transition if they succeeded.
The G7 countries were joined by diplomats from Muslim-majority nations including Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Foreign ministers from G7 nations, including Mr Tillerson (L) and Boris Johnson (C), met in Italy. (Twitter: @G7intheUS)